Mobile technology will have a huge impact on how we recruit patients in the coming years, but mobile phones can also be used to facilitate patient recruitment today. To help you navigate this new territory and separate hype from reality, I’ve invited 10-year mobile industry veteran Jeff Lee to share his expertise. – Rahlyn
Omniscience Mobile is a software development company that provides solutions focused on the clinical research field. We help researchers use mobile phones to enhance communications with study patients. We support different patient interactions including the use of text messaging for patient recruitment, retention, and the data capture of patient report outcomes via the mobile phone.
Why is the mobile phone important to patient recruitment?
Because the mobile phone is important to patients. The vast majority of patients have mobile phones, and they are using them in a growing number of ways, from banking to shopping to entertainment. Mobile phone users increasingly expect the organizations they interact with to leverage the mobile phone effectively. Clinical research is no exception.
What’s the best way to use the mobile phone in patient recruitment?
The iPhone has generated a lot of attention to the capabilities of mobile phones. That’s good. But, it’s also prompted a lot of people to assume that only smartphone users can be engaged on their phones. That’s not only inaccurate (smartphones make up only 35-40% of the market in the US, and much less in most other countries), it’s actually counterproductive. Here’s why:
Focusing on smartphones isn’t smart
Putting aside the fact that apps are very expensive to develop/maintain, and that most users don’t actually use the applications they download, my biggest issue is that the app download introduces friction into a potential patient’s response to your study. If you look at a traditional ad that says “click here’ or “call this number”, the patient has a direct action to immediately learn more and get involved in the study. Can you imagine a call to action that says “If you’re interested in this study:
go to your phone’s app store
find our app
figure out where the app is on your phone
click on the app to learn more about this study.
That just doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve seen apps that basically pull data from clinicaltrials.gov, but I find it unlikely that many potential study patients will be inclined to download this type of app.
Don’t get QRazy!
QR (quick read) codes are 2 dimensional codes that can prompt a phone to go to a URL, download a contact, receive a text message, as well as other simple functions. Wandering the exhibit hall at DIA would make one think that the entire world is comfortable using QR codes.
But, as noted above, the majority of the general patient population doesn’t use a smartphone. QR codes require a scanning app to be used on the phone to capture an image of the code, and send it to a server to determine what action the QR code prompts. These scanner apps are only really available for smartphones, so choosing a QR code as part of marketing should be done recognizing that it will only be accessible to a minority of users.
But that will change over time. It’s actually changing fairly quickly as smartphones (and the associated data plans) quickly come down in price. But even when smartphone penetration doubles, QR codes will still rely on a change in user behavior that I think will take plenty of time.
Mobile users must be so familiar with the QR code that they know exactly which app they need to use on their phone (and where to find that app) so they can act quickly and scan that code. There have been some initial examples where QR codes have been successful, but I still think they are 18-24 months away from being embraced by a majority of mobile subscribers.
Text messaging works, now.
When developing our technology suite at Omniscience Mobile, we chose to focus on text messaging for our initial products. Rahlyn has graciously profiled our system in a previous post, for those that would like to understand it in more detail. We like text messaging because it works on any phone and the majority of users know how to use it.
So far, this approach is paying off. We’re seeing very high response rates to our text messaging patient recruitment campaigns, and respondents are providing a significant amount of information via text message (such as Date of Birth, zip code, medical history, etc). Our systems can be quickly deployed, and we’re seeing some amazing ROI results coming in. By the way, since text messaging has a 97% read rate, text messages reminders in clinical studies also are very effective. Please feel free to contact us if you’d like to learn more.