Though still in relative infancy, digital media has significantly impacted the business world. It led to the meteoric rise of companies like Google and Facebook. And it’s also responsible for the struggles of Kodak, a once iconic (and seemingly invincible) brand.
No one can predict exactly what changes digital media will bring next. But one thing is certain. Digital media will continue to shake things up.
In fact, digital media is already shaking up marketing. And since patient recruitment is essentially applied marketing, it’s shaking up patient recruitment as well.
To be prepared for this shift, it’s important to understand both the benefits and challenges of digital marketing use in patient recruitment. Read on for my analysis of this topic.
The four biggest benefits of digital marketing for patient recruitment follow.
1. Wider Distribution of Clinical Trial Information
Three trends are creating the opportunity for wider distribution of clinical trials information.
- Popularity of online health information seeking
- Online health information distribution via surrogates
- Growing Internet adoption
Popularity of Online Health Information Seeking
According to Pew, 80% of adult Internet users have looked for health information online, which translates to 59% of all adults. In fact, health information seeking is the third most popular online activity, behind only email and search engine use.
For the sake of comparison, consider a recent Health Tracking Household Survey that published data collected in 2010. This study reported that 18% of consumers seek health information via print media sources like magazines, books, and newspapers. Notably, this statistic dropped by about half since a previous 2007 study.
Online Health Information Distribution Via Surrogates
Though 59% of US adults search for health information online, this statistic does not fully capture the reach of online health information. The Pew study also found that half of Internet users who go online for health information reported that their last search was on behalf of someone else. So even those who do not search for health information online may be receiving information gathered online via a surrogate.
But online clinical trials information can be presented to more than just heath information seekers and those they care about.
Growing Internet Adoption
According to Pew Research’s 2011 figures on Internet adoption, 78% of US adults use the Internet. Though health information seekers are more likely to be receptive to clinical trials information, the general Internet population should not be ignored.
With strategic use of digital marketing, these adults can be reached in a variety of ways, regardless of whether their intent is to seek health information.
Though the studies I cite above are US-centric, many other countries are experiencing similar trends as well. Digital marketing is a great means of turning these trends into patient recruitment opportunity.
2. Superior Patient Recruitment Campaign Optimization
A well-worn saying in advertising, attributed to various people, is “I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted. I just don’t know which half.”
Digital marketing technology is making it easier to solve this problem, thus facilitating more effective (re)allocation of marketing resources. And because of the speed and automation associated with these technologies, reallocation of resources can occur in real-time if need be. The result is that digital marketing campaigns can be continually optimized for better results.
Technologies contributing to this optimization ability include:
- Sophisticated campaign tracking tools
- Split testing ability
- Robust targeting capability
- Ease of marketing segmentation
Sophisticated Campaign Tracking Tools
A variety of campaign tracking tools, both free and paid, provide tracking of online patient recruitment campaigns. The most well-known of these tools is Google Analytics, but many other tracking tools are available.
When used effectively and customized appropriately, tracking tools generate important insights about patient recruitment campaigns, which can then be used for continual campaign refinement. Just about any campaign element can be tracked (and thus optimized).
Split Testing Ability
With digital marketing, you don’t have to wonder what your most effective ad, landing page, or audience targeting will be. You can test to find out which generates a better response.
Split testing, otherwise known as A/B testing, originated in direct mail, but it has been widely adopted and improved upon in the digital marketing realm. Using split testing, you can continually test different variables of your patient recruitment campaign and hone your campaign based on the result of these tests.
Robust Targeting Capability
Audience targeting technology continues to improve, and with that improvement comes an increased ability to reach your target patient population.
For example, geotargeting allows you to display ads only to users within a specified geographic region, which is a wonderful development for research sites. This technology was relatively uncommon just 5 years ago but is now available on most ad platforms, providing research sites with better access to prospective patients in their area.
Geotargeting is just one example of a vast array of targeting options, particularly with regard to advertising.
Ease of Market Segmentation
When we think about the motivations of potential research participants, our target market, it’s easy to think of them as a uniform group. But the reality is far more complex.
Prospective patient motivations are informed and influenced by a long list of variables, including age, gender, educational status, socioeconomic status, location, condition, efficacy of existing treatments, previous healthcare experiences, and more. Market segmentation allows us to better account for these variables and provide information of greater individual relevancy to prospective participants.
This marketing strategy is by no means limited to digital marketing specifically, however, digital marketing technology makes it easier to use.
3. Excellent Clinical Trials Educational Tool
Lack of awareness and misconceptions about clinical trials remain significant barriers to patient recruitment. The only way to overcome these barriers is through better clinical trials education.
Digital marketing is well-suited to provide that education.
Ability to Provide More Information
For example, consider a clinical trial website, which can provide virtually unlimited clinical trial information. Now compare a website to 30 second radio spot or a newspaper print ad. Clearly, a website can provide potential participants with far more information.
But education is about more than providing a lot of information (quantity). Quality of information is also important.
Better Relevancy for Potential Participants
Earlier I discussed how advanced digital marketing technology provides sophisticated campaign tracking, market segmentation, and patient targeting ability. And I described the benefits of these technologies entirely from a campaign optimization perspective. What I did not mention is that these technologies have also improved digital media as an educational tool.
Technological advancements like those discussed allow clinical trials content to be more individually tailored, creating a more relevant and enriching educational experience for the user.
Self-Directed Clinical Trials Learning
Have you ever been forced to sit through educational content that did not match your interests or level of expertise? Perhaps everything presented was information you already knew. Or it was way over your head. Or you just didn’t care. No one enjoys this sort of experience. But sometimes we have no choice but to endure educational content that is imperfect for our needs.
Potential research participants, however, do not have to endure undesirable educational content. So in many cases, they do not.
One way to combat such user disengagement is self-directed learning. And digital media can provide this self-directed, and therefore more engaging, educational experience. For example, a well-organized and thoughtfully implemented study website allows potential study participants to browse according to their interest and current understanding of clinical trials.
In short, digital media is a great educational tool because it provides clinical trial participants:
- More information
- Better relevancy
- Self-directed (thus more engaging) learning
4. New Patient Recruitment Insights
Digital marketing is about much more than gaining access to your desired audience. It’s about gaining access to data.
To be clear, I am not talking about personally identifiable data. I am referring to aggregate digital campaign data gathered via the optimization technologies discussed above. Not only do these technologies help you optimize your current campaign, but they also provide new insights to improve future patient recruitment campaigns.For example, imagine that you are writing a clinical trial protocol. As you write this protocol, you will have specific research questions in mind, which will form the foundation of that protocol. Similarly, digital patient recruitment campaigns can be designed with particular research questions in mind. So in addition to using digital media to recruit potential participants, you can also use it as a form of market research.
Certainly, non-digital marketing campaigns can be designed to answer particular research questions as well. However, digital marketing technology makes the process easier, cheaper, and quicker. With proper digital campaign organization and analysis, the insights gathered can prove extremely valuable in future patient recruitment and other areas.
The Strength of Digital Marketing for Patient Recruitment
To recap, the four biggest benefits of digital marketing for patient recruitment are:
- Wide Audience Reach for Clinical Trials Information
- Superior Patient Recruitment Campaign Optimization
- Excellent Clinical Trials Educational Tool
- New Patient Recruitment Insights
These benefits are by no means the only benefits, but they are the core of digital marketing’s unique strengths for patients recruitment.
Though digital marketing brings additional patient recruitment capability, it also brings additional difficulty.
The Challenges of Digital Marketing for Patient Recruitment
The digital media ecosystem includes a variety of distinct but increasingly interdependent components. Examples of these components include paid ads, social media, mobile, email, video, organic search, and more.
To fully harness digital marketing, you must understand the broader digital ecosystem, as well as the nuances of each particular component. This breadth and depth of knowledge is required to craft a strategy well-suited to the particulars of a clinical trial. Unfortunately, attainment of this knowledge is made more difficult by rapid evolution in the digital space.
Second, digital marketing requires more technological savvy than traditional marketing. Digital marketing tools are quite sophisticated and powerful, but they are only as good as skill level of the person using them. Access to digital marketing tools is simply not enough. You must know how to harness them.
Lastly, digital marketing requires ongoing monitoring and management. Without skilled monitoring and management, campaign optimization ability only exists in theory. True optimization requires ongoing skilled campaign management.
In summary, digital marketing requires:
- Understanding of the complex (and rapidly evolving) digital ecosystem
- More technological savvy than traditional marketing
- Skilled monitoring and management on an ongoing basis
Without attention to these requirements, you cannot reap the full benefits of digital marketing for patient recruitment.
Now that I’ve explored the benefits of digital marketing for patient recruitment, as well as the challenges, it’s your turn to share. Are you using digital marketing for patient recruitment? What has your experience been like? Did anything about the experience surprise you? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
Pawar Mandira says
Dear Rahlyn Gossen,
I am a Clinical research coordinator based in India.
I hav an experienced how technology has helped in recruitemet. We were workin for a clinical trial of very rare indication in cancer and were not even near the recruitement goal which we were supposed to meet.But one day a potential subject called up us who had got our contact details on clinical trial website
and it was a great start for us.
Rahlyn Gossen says
Great to hear you had a good experience with online patient recruitment. More and more patients are researching their healthcare decisions online, so a good online presence is necessary for clinical trial recruitment.
Noel @ Mosio says
Great post, definitely some useful bits here. Quick question: do you have a rule of thumb for researchers to ensure they meet recruiting goals when it comes to potential candidates? As in “for every 100 volunteers, we need X to respond to our marketing.” I hope that makes sense, just wondering how you gauge what to shoot for, considering there is always going to be drop off from people who don’t qualify. Thanks!
Noel Chandler, Mosio
Rahlyn Gossen says
I don’t have a simple rule of thumb. Every study is different and there’s quite a bit of variation in drop off, which is influenced by a number of factors.
I generally look at these factors, pull some data, and then do a funnel analysis to determine enrollment projections. I don’t have a simple one size fits all rule of thumb though.