Clinical trials face many challenges, and one of them is attracting a sufficient – and diverse – trial population. Traditional patient enrollment strategies generally involve approaching patients through their primary care physician or specialist. This network-type method, however, can often narrow the field, which can be a particular problem for rare diseases.
The Problem of Diversity in Clinical Trial Recruitment
Clinical trials are an important part of drug development, but historically there has been a tendency for recruitment to lack a key ingredient in the randomization process: diversity.
In 2019, for example, research was presented that showed that African-Americans with acute myeloid leukemia were unfairly excluded from clinical trials. In this case, it was a trial policy that turned out to be discriminatory. A greater issue is recruiting minorities to trials in the first place, both because of communication challenges and a stronger need to build trust. Older people can also sometimes be a challenge to recruit. While doctors are doing their best to reach out to these populations, there can sometimes be greater success in reaching out to patients directly. This is where social media and digital marketing can be leveraged to improve patient recruitment in clinical trials and to provide information that helps potential patients feel comfortable applying to participate.
How Digital Marketing Improves Diversity
One advantage of digital marketing is that it can be very precisely targeted. If you need to recruit patients from a particular population, you can target an ad to that population alone, targeting by age, gender, and location, and even ethnic interests and affinities. It may reach people who are struggling to manage their care without a primary care physician.
Digital marketing can also be used to approach specific groups of patients where they are living online, such as in Facebook groups, or on forums or message boards.
Marketing through social media can have a mixed effect, as it can be impacted by lack of trust in platforms, but does allow for a very targeted approach using a variety of advertising styles. Regardless of the kind of marketing you use, you can direct patients to a recruitment platform that encourages them to sign up, collects the information you need, and begins a smooth onboarding process.
What About Seniors?
A concern with using digital marketing is that it might not reach people over 60. However, it’s a myth that older people don’t use the internet. In fact, screen time is increasing in the 60 to 75 age group, with Facebook being a particularly useful place to find seniors.
The internet has proven to be a great way for older people to stay in touch with their family and friends and help plan their lives, which makes it easy to reach this population directly.
What Digital Marketing Options Are There?
There are a number of options for digital marketing to reach potential patients. All of these require that you put effort into both your advertising copy and your targets.
Here are some of the best options:
- Facebook – Facebook is the giant of social media advertising, and offers some very precise targeting. For example, you can target your ad to people who have liked a page offering support to sufferers of the disease you are researching. Social media can also be a good way to attract healthy volunteers for certain trials, especially if you are trying to reach specific demographics. The best basis is to use interest-based marketing. For example, for diet and exercise trials, using interest-based marketing on Facebook to find fitness-oriented participants can be extremely cost-effective. Sexual health is another area in which interest-based marketing can be very efficient.
- Instagram – Instagram ads have proven very effective in many ways. They can be included as part of a Facebook campaign, or handled separately.
- Google and Yahoo/Bing – Paid search ads can work very well for trial organizers, although they can get expensive. Make sure your keywords are narrow enough to show your ads, as much as possible, only to people interested in treatment options and clinical trials.
- Online Forums and Message Boards – Posting announcements to online forums and message boards that serve as support groups for the patient community can be very effective. Make sure that the board admin is okay with you posting ads before doing so. Another alternative along similar lines is Craigslist, which is much more useful than its reputation indicates.
Regardless of the channel you use, remember that you need to send a positive message. People with chronic disease don’t like to be reminded of their suffering, so focus instead on offering hope.
Which channels are more effective can vary depending on what your trial is for, but the important thing to realize is that digital marketing can be effective for all trials, providing it is done correctly. You do need to have a good plan, knowing what you will do if you need to target specific populations. However, digital marketing grants you the flexibility to target specific populations during a study if you discover that your recruitment is falling short in that area.
If in doubt, seek expert help to put together your digital marketing campaign. Digital marketing allows you to recruit more specific and targeted populations to your clinical trial and supports a patient enrollment strategy that covers a wide base.