Quick. Think back to the last time you signed up to be included in a database. Have you ever signed up to be included in a database? I can’t remember ever doing such a thing.
I’m on a list that is emailed Steve Jobs quotes periodically. I regularly receive emails from my favorite merchants with information about upcoming sales. My utility company texts me when an outage is detected in my area. Amazon sends me emails about their newest music releases.
I’ve asked to receive all of these messages. And I am able to receive these messages because a database somewhere holds my information.
But I can’t recall ever thinking, “I want to be in that database.” I did think, “I’d like to hear about opportunities to save money on my favorite brands.” I’ve also thought, “I want to stay informed of new musical releases.”
Are You Driving Potential Research Participants Away?As more patients turn to the web for health information, more research sites are using their websites to build their patient database. Typically, patients are directed to a web form, where they can fill out their information, which is then directed to the research site.
But a big problem often occurs in how research sites direct patients to that form. Phrases like “be added to our database” or “join our mailing list” are used to prompt prospective participants to share their information. And these phrases are silently driving prospective research participants away.
This approach is problematic in two big ways.
The terms “database” and “mailing list” carry an impersonal and cold connotation. The irony is that databases and lists are tools that allow us to provide personal and attentive service. But the words themselves are not personal at all.
Though people may desire the personal service made possible by databases, they do not relish the idea of being in a database. Databases are merely a means to an end. When talking to prospective patients, focus on the end rather than the technological or organizational means you are using to achieve it.
Lack of Specificity
Phrases like “be added to our database” and “join our mailing list” tell prospective patients very little. Before people provide you with their personal data, they want to know exactly what to expect and how they will benefit. You can’t possibly articulate this information in only a few words. Be specific.
Claude Hopkins, an advertising pioneer, discussed the importance of specificity in his classic book Scientific Advertising.
Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatever.
Prospective patients will not provide you with their personal information unless you have left an impression. And to leave that impression, you must be specific.
An Example From My Dentist
The other day I called my dentist’s office to make an appointment. The staff member asked me if she could have my email address so they could send me appointment reminders via email.
I thought, “Absolutely, I much prefer to receive appointment reminders via email rather than over the phone.” And I was so impressed that my dentist office was offering this great service to me.
Now imagine this staff member had said, “Can we add your email to our database?” I might have given my email but I would have been a lot less excited about providing it. And I would not have been so impressed with my dentist’s customer service.
I might also have asked how my email would be used, which is a question that is easily answered over the phone. But on the web, when people have unanswered questions about how their information will be used or how they will benefit, they usually hit the back button.
Improving Your Request For Information
Which statement do you find more compelling? “Be added to our database.” Or “Be among the first to know about our newest research studies.”
I’d say the second example is an improvement over the first, but you could still improve upon it with some additional elaboration. To determine what kind of elaboration you should provide, do this exercise. Better yet, get everyone in your office who has contact with patients to do this exercise.
Take some time to go through the process of signing up for your database. As you do this, pretend that you know nothing about clinical trials and have never heard of your research site before. Also pretend that you are only mildly comfortable with computers, and you have some reservations about putting health information into a form.
What areas during the process are potentially confusing? What questions have been left unanswered? Are you left wondering what is being done with your information and when someone might contact you? Are there no clear benefits to providing your information? Do you know what to expect? Is the form difficult to navigate? How can the experience be improved?
Go through the entire process from the perspective of a potential study subject. Now make improvements to that process based on the insights you gather. If you take this seriously, I promise more prospective patients will start contacting you via your website.
What else can we do to improve the experience of prospective study participants? What improvements have you made in your sites process. Please share your experience, insights, and comments below.