Recruitment Strategies in the COVID-19 Era

As studies adapt to the new reality, how will they recruit patients effectively?

Recruiting in the era of COVID-19 will not be easy, but it can be done.

To ensure patient safety, there is a growing need to modify protocols, establish new remote procedures and implement exposure risk-mitigation measures for sites to continue running clinical trials. As reported by WCG, the FDA recently released a “direct-to-final guidance” for sponsors and investigators to look at alternatives to face-to-face trial procedures. Even if a site has transitioned to mostly remote work, leveraging tools like a clinical trial management system, eSource and eReg, the process of uncovering and contacting study prospects remains a formidable challenge. To enroll patients in the COVID-19 era, sites will need every tool at their disposal; not only to recruit them, but to secure their safety while adhering to ever-evolving government, FDA and IRB guidelines.

Let’s break down the biggest issues affecting recruitment:

  • An increasing number of patients fear exposure to COVID-19 and are cancelling their visits
  • Even those that want to show up may not have any means of transportation
  • Only some study visits can be conducted remotely or offsite, and sponsors/IRBs are just starting to develop policies for visit deviations that require a physical site
  • Source data and consent for enrolling patients often involves clinic visits and paper documents

Alone, each issue poses a surmountable threat for sites trying to meet enrollment goals on a timeline. Together, they have the potential to hinder recruitment channel success and force sites to drop out of studies they planned to conduct, potentially bringing financial hardship.

So how can this be resolved?

For many recruiters,  CTMS has become an indispensable tool for keeping the recruitment workflow efficient while working remotely. Modern CTMS systems have fully configurable and adaptable recruiting workflows; they also integrate with social media platforms, provide two-way texting communication, allow online data capture from home devices and provide debit card payment systems that make all participant reimbursement transactions electronic.

Below are some approaches that your team can leverage for a recruiting campaign in the COVID-19 environment:

  • Build an adapted call list of best candidates by applying multi-variable filters to your CTMS patient database. This lets recruiters address the current COVID-19 risks while automatically narrowing their lists to deprioritize prospects who are elderly or immunocompromised.
  • Develop a timely recruitment messaging strategy that reassures patients with clear exposure mitigation strategies, including high-level information about company communications, safe transportation options, medicine home delivery, study home visits and anything else needed to ensure patient safety. Don’t forget to update your company website with both practical and reassuring information.
  • Leverage external recruitment lists and your CTMS database to setup targeted email campaigns in conjunction with the other marketing activities. If you can, personalize your emails with reassuring messaging and keep the content short and to the point. A landing page that routes them to pre-screening questions or contact with a recruiter would also be helpful for readers and drive participant interest.
  • Attract additional patients by building a social media campaign. For example, you could leverage a Facebook integration in your CTMS to keep the campaign ads centrally managed. What’s more, create relevant human-interest posts that connect to the COVID-19 crisis and show how your study team is adjusting to work under their new, temporary “normal” and still finding ways to have fun. Right now, everyone benefits from some levity, and it also serves as a brand boost for your site!
  • Make use of additional inbound recruitment tools that provide access to new prospects 24/7 via an integrated recruitment page on your website. This integration provides patients with options for pre-screening or requesting a call from a recruiter (similar to the landing pages for the emails or social media.)
  • Set up customized text messaging campaigns from within your recruiting dashboard. The more individualized they can be, the better. With texts, prospects can respond when it is convenient for them, and it all gets tracked in your texting application for recruitment reporting. Two-way texting is also very effective for ongoing study follow-up.

As you can see, there are several strategies you can employ to drive towards your patient recruitment goals during these challenging times. If you have any additional questions or need help finding the right tools for your campaigns, feel free to contact us at any time. We are here to help.

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