Though some research sites have leveraged digital media with great success, the vast majority of sites continue to flounder in this area. The site digital divide is not a trivial matter, since the ability to harness digital media for patient recruitment will ultimately determine the productivity (and success) of many research sites.
Though the preceding paragraph might sound like the beginning of a pitch for Rebar Interactive, it is not. In fact, this digital divide was the topic of a session at the Drug Information Association’s 2011 annual meeting.
If you were unable to attend the session, you’re in luck. ClinPage published an excellent summary of the key points. Whether you represent a site, CRO, sponsor, PRO or other clinical research entity, ClinPage’s article is a must read:
Knowing might be half the battle, but the other half of the battle still requires attention, namely the identification of a solution. So how do we bridge this digital divide?
How Do We Bridge The Site Digital Divide?
I certainly don’t have the answer to this question, but I would like to start a discussion.
If you ask clinical research professionals why patient recruitment is such a challenge, their answers will largely depend on their role within the industry. Sponsors and CROs often cite a lack of effectiveness by sites. And sites often cite a lack of support from sponsors and CROs. Like many areas of life, the reality is likely somewhere in between these views.
As someone who started a clinical research career as a coordinator, it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m sympathetic to the challenges of sites.
Digital Media Challenges for Sites
Before considering a solution for this digital divide, it’s helpful to pinpoint the obstacles preventing sites from effectively leveraging digital media. From my perspective, these obstacles fall into 2 major categories.
Short on Time
According to a recent Clinical Research Site Training (CRST) survey, clinical research sites are struggling with increasing trial complexity. Here are the findings:
- 60% report increasing difficulty in managing trial profitability
- 40% report increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining subjects
- Training remains a major issue, even though over 50% report an increase in training
- 80%+ of nurses want more QA training
- 60%+ of all respondents want more FDA Audits training
Given the issues noted in the CRST survey, I can’t say I find it surprising that few sites have the time to fiddle with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Bing, etc. Nor do I find it surprising that few sites have developed the expertise to create effective targeting, eye-catching ads, quality landing pages, and precise campaign tracking.
Based on my observations, sites who excel in digital media have a dedicated, full-time business development or patient recruitment professional spearheading the effort. Often the only research sites with the resources to hire such a professional are large and/or have multiple locations.
For the rest of sites, the responsibility for digital recruitment often goes to someone with no expertise in digital media and little time to devote to learning. This person might be a study coordinator or a part-time patient recruitment coordinator.
In short, most clinical research sites do not have someone on staff with time to devote to experimenting with digital patient recruitment.
Short on Resources
If you are not a site staff member, imagine that you are. Now imagine that you need solid, actionable guidance on digital patient recruitment. Where would you start? If any resources come to mind, please put them in the comments below.
Thus far, I have been unable to identify many useful resources for sites interested in digital patient recruitment.
If sites are already short on time, they need resources that can get them up to speed on digital patient recruitment quickly. Unfortunately, few resources fit this profile.
Rethinking the Laggards
The ClinPage article I cited above notes that over 80 percent of sites are not effectively utilizing digital media. Elizabeth Moench of MediciGlobal characterizes these sites as “laggards.” Compared to the 20 or so percent of sites effectively using digital media, laggard is a fair characterization.
But I think the word “laggard” implies a deviation from the norm, obscuring the fact that these sites are the norm. They represent approximately 80 percent of sites. In this sense, the digitally-challenged sites are not laggards at all.
Another way to think about the (lack of) progress of sites is to compare them to businesses in other industries. In this respect, sites do lag behind the norm. However, this observation is true of organizations throughout the clinical research industry. The industry, as a whole, has lagged other industries in technological and digital media innovation.
The inability of many sites to keep pace with digital media trends is really just a symptom of the fact that the entire clinical research industry has been slow to innovate.
Building a Bridge
Given the fact that digitally unsavvy sites are the norm and the entire clinical research industry lags on digital media and technology, I’d argue that leadership needs to come from sponsors and CROs on this issue. And that leadership needs to come in the form of support and guidance.
When you work at a clinical research site, everything you do is dictated by the protocol or the wishes of the sponsor. But from what I can tell, sponsors and CROs have taken a very hands-off approach when it comes to digital patient recruitment.
I have no doubt that some sites will continue to drag their feet on digital media, regardless of what resources sponsors and CROs provide them. However, I think that many sites have the desire to step into the digital age but are overwhelmed by the prospect of getting started. With the proper tools, these sites can begin to leverage digital media in a way that will ultimately help them excel.
What’s your perspective? Do you think sites should be getting more support with digital media? Are you aware of any current initiatives by sponsors and CROs to get sites up to speed on digital media? Is digital media being discussed at investigator meetings? Please comment below: