Hello, UNC clinical researchers! This blog post is a companion resource for the talk I did on November 9, 2012, which was titled “Digital Marketing for Patient Recruitment & Retention.” You can download the slides for the talk here [PDF].
In addition, I’ve curated a list of over 60 resources and links to help you on your digital patient recruitment journey. Many of these links relate to online patient recruitment, but you will also find digital tools that are useful for all forms of recruitment.
The word of the day is free. Most of the resources listed will cost you nothing. Advertising, of course, is not free. But the links I’ve provided to learn about online advertising generally are. In the event that a particular service is paid, I’ve noted that in the description. And I only included paid services that are pretty affordable.
If you have suggestions on resources that would improve this list, please don’t hesitate to let me know so I can make the addition here. You can provide the resource in the comments at the end of the blog post or email me directly at [email protected]. Feel free to contact me with questions as well. Enjoy!
First Things First
For many clinical researchers, Google Adwords is the best place to start. But if you are interested in reaching particular demographics, Facebook is worth a serious look. Facebook has superior demographic targeting because people are completing this information in their profile. Some resources for Google Adwords, Bing Ads, and Facebook Ads are below.
Adwords Express – This is the version of Adwords created specifically for local businesses who do not have a lot of time to devote to learn Adwords. Setup is quick and easy but you don’t have a lot of control. Adwords Express is a good place to start if you are new to Adwords, are only advertising locally, and you want to be up and running quickly.
Adwords v Adwords Express Comparison Chart – Not sure if you should use the full-featured Adwords or Adwords Express? Google provides a comparison chart so you can see the difference. One notable difference is that you do not need to have a website in order to use Adwords Express.
If you choose to go with Adwords rather than Adwords Express, you will need to spend more time learning about it. Here are some resources for that.
Create an Adwords Account – Instructions for creating your Google Adwords account
Where Your Ads Can Appear – Google describes all the places where you can choose for your ads to appear. For many, the Google Search Network is the best place to start. If you choose the Search Network, your ads will appear on the actual search results page where people are typing their query.
Create Your First Ad Campaign – Walkthrough of the major steps of creating your first campaign
How Keywords Work – Keywords are an important part of advertising on the Google Adwords Search Network. This link explains the basics.
Making Sure Your Ads Are Relevant – Relevance is an important part of advertising with Google. This link explains the why and how of ad relevance.
Tips for Creating Text Ads – A brief description of ways to improve your ad text
Enhance Your Ads Using Extensions – Ad Extensions extend your ad beyond the basic ad. Don’t worry about using these the first time you place an ad. But you should be aware of them because they offer some nice functionality that is useful for patient recruitment. For example, using location extensions you can actually have your address appear alongside your ad. Another option is to use call extensions to have your phone number appear with the ad. If the user clicks on the phone number from a mobile device, they will be prompted to call you from that device.
Getting Started With Bing Ads – Once you are up and running on Google, you might consider trying Bing Ads. It works similarly to Google. They even allow you to import your campaigns from Google, which is a nice timesaver. Because of a partnership with Yahoo, these ads will show both on Bing and Yahoo. Bing tends to be cheaper than Google and can be used for reaching a slightly different population. Bing users tend to skew a bit older than Google users, which can be good if you have an older patient population.
Facebook Ads Getting Started – Brief introduction to getting started with Facebook Ads
Interests Targeting – A brief guide to interests targeting on Facebook Ads
Ads and Sponsored Stories – Describes the different ad types that are available on Facebook Ads
Facebook Ads Optimization Guide – Once you understand the basics of Facebook ads, this guide will teach you about optimization.
Measuring Success with Ads Manager – Guide to understanding the analytics that Facebook gives you when you place ads
There are many listing services available. Here are three that I’ve found to be most popular with research sites.
Craigslist – You can list your study on Craigslist for free. Some sites have had a lot of success with Craigslist, but of course results vary. Most sites post in the “et cetera” jobs section.
Clinical Connection – Unlike Craigslist, you do have to pay for Clinical Connection. But they have pricing specifically for research sites and they offer a risk free trial. Information on pricing and the trial can be found here.
Centerwatch – Many research sites also post their studies to Centerwatch, which offers investigator pricing for their listings. Centerwatch also has a variety of other resources on their website.
Social Media Marketing
Some general social media information, as well as platform-specific resources, are listed below.
Social Media and Patient Recruitment
Patient Recruitment: Regulatory & IRB Considerations of Social Media – Summarizes a webinar done by Quorum IRB
Social Media and Patient Recruitment: 6 Factors in Mayo Clinic’s Success – Analysis of the factors contributing to Mayo Clinic’s success with social media
Social Media for Patient Recruitment: 3 Major Options – Describes 3 general options of social media (build, borrow, listen)
Social Media category of Rebar Interactive blog – Access all of the Rebar Interactive blog content written about social media by following this link
Facebook Pages Getting Started – A brief introductory guide to Facebook Pages
Facebook Pages – An in depth guide to using Facebook Pages
Facebook Pages Optimization Guide – Facebook’s guide to optimizing your page once you’ve built it
Page Publishing Engagement Guide – Tips for keeping people engaged with your Facebook page content
Facebook Marketing – A Facebook page dedicated to education and inspiration related to the use of Facebook for marketing.
Rebar Interactive Facebook Page – We’re more active on other social networks like Twitter and Linkedin. But you can give us a “like” to receive updates. You might also check out the pages we have liked. If you view our likes and scroll down a bit, you will see quite a few research site pages. Then you can visit these to see how different research sites are using Facebook.
Twitter for Clinical Research Professionals – This is a 2 part series on using Twitter. Patient recruitment is not the focus. But if you are wondering what Twitter is about and how to get started, these blogs are for you.
Rebar Twitter Lists – I’ve created lists of Twitter accounts curated around a variety of clinical research and healthcare topics. In particular, the research site list may be of interest to see how other sites are using Twitter.
Social Media Management Tools
There are tons of tools, both free and paid, to help you manage your social media presence. Here are a couple to try. You don’t need these tools if you are just getting started. But many people find them helpful as they get more into social media.
Hootsuite – Hootsuite has a free and a pro version. The pro version is $9.99 a month. For most people, the free version works just fine.
SproutSocial – If you plan to get more serious about social media, consider SproutSocial. It has some more advanced tools/analytics and it starts at $39/month.
Mailchimp – Mailchimp is my favorite email marketing software. They have a very nice user interface and they provide a lot of resources to help you use and learn it. If you have fewer than 2,000 people on your list, their service is free.
Google Analytics – Google Analytics is by far the most popular website analytics software and it is free. It also integrates nicely with Google Adwords.
Facebook Page Insights Guide – Facebook Insights is analytics for your Facebook page. This guide explains how to understand the performance of your page and optimize it.
CallRail – Call Rail is a call tracking service. There are several other similar services, but I’ve found CallRail to be the most straightforward in terms of features and pricing. This service is not something you would use all the time. But it’s very useful for determining what awareness tactics are driving your phone calls. It can be used for both online and offline patient recruitment tactics. You get 10 phone numbers and 500 minutes for $30 a month. They also offer a free trial for you test the service out.
Google Voice – Want a cheaper option for call tracking than CallRail? Google Voice is free unless you make calls outside of the US and Canada with it. And that’s not something you would be doing. Google Voice is not really a call analytics provider. You won’t get the level of detail or sophistication that you would with CallRail. But you can use it to find out the number of incoming calls from a particular patient recruitment source. Forward the Google Voice number to your main telephone line and then advertise the Google Voice number in the patient recruitment source you want to track.
Bitly – Bitly is a URL redirection service with built-in analytics. You can use it for creating a shortened or “vanity” URL. Like call tracking, you can use this to track both online and offline patient recruitment tactics. For example, say you are posting on Craigslist and you want to get a better idea of how many people are visiting your website from your Craigslist posting. You can use a service like Bitly to track that.
Websites & Landing Pages
Google Sites – You can create a website for free using Google Sites.
Squarespace – Squarespace’s basic plan is $8/month, which should be adequate for most people. This price includes hosting. They also have a free trial if you would like to test them out first.
Weebly – A basic website is free. You can also upgrade to their pro version if you want additional features.
OnePager – Allows you to get a simple one page website up using drag-and-drop widgets. Embed maps, forms, and more. Also has basic analytics or allows you to use your Google Analytics account. Starter package is $8/month.
Strinkingly – Another option for creating a one page website without any code. Appears to be completely free at the time of this writing.
Landing Page Tips – A carefully designed landing page can go a long way in improving your conversion rate. This is particularly important if you are paying to drive traffic (advertising) to you your website. This article will help you create a strong landing page.
Ultimate List of Online Readability Tests – This article provides a very thorough discussion of readability, and at the end is a list of readability testing tools. You can run your text through these tools to help you figure out if you need to simplify your language so patients can better understand it.
WeVideo – Video is a great educational tool, but the process of editing, uploading, and sharing can be time consuming. WeVideo helps you do all of that quickly from your Internet browser (no software to download). And they have educational pricing. The “lite” version of their software is free, the “plus” version is $19.99/year, and the “ultra” is $29.99/year. View their educational pricing here. Something simple like a brief video tour of your facility can go a long way in easing patient anxiety about trial participation. Plus, Google shows YouTube videos in their search results. Sharing your videos on YouTube is a good way to be visible in those results even if you don’t have a website.
General Audience Research
Google Trends – Google Trends is a great way to understand trends related to particular keywords. See top searches and filter by date or state.
Yahoo Clues – Yahoo Clues is similar to Google Trends but it offers slightly different information. For example, it shows demographic information related to particular queries. It also shows you “search flow.” This functionality allows you to see what queries people tend to use both before and after the query you are researching.
PWC Interactive Social Media in Healthcare Graphic – PWC put out a very high quality free report on the use of social media in healthcare. If this topic interests you, check it out. But even if you don’t read the report, the interactive graphic that accompanies it is a great tool. The graphic allows you to select particular demographics and then see their attitudes about social media and healthcare.
Pew Internet – Pew Internet publishes lots of high quality free information. And healthcare is a big focus of theirs. This link will take you to the healthcare category of their webpage, where you can view information on topics like mobile health, caregivers online, and peer-to-peer healthcare.
Google Keyword Tool – To use this tool, Google will ask you sign up for an Adwords account. If you are going to use Adwords, this is a tool you will want to get acquainted with. But it can be useful even if you don’t intend to advertise. Type in your primary keyword and get information about that keyword and related keywords. For example, one thing you might do is type in your primary keyword, sort the list of related keywords by search volume, and see which queries are most popular with your audience.
Twitter Advanced Search – See what people are saying about a particular topic. Advanced search allows you to use several filters when you search. For example, you can use the “near this place” filter to only show tweets in the Chapel Hill area.
Kurrently – Kurrently allows you to search all of the major social networks for particular terms.
SocialMention – Social Mention is similar to Kurrently but more advanced. It has more search filters and it searches more than just social network content. It also pulls conversations from blogs, forums, and other type of content.
ACRP Community – If you are an ACRP member, their discussion board is a great way to get help or insight from fellow clinical researchers. It’s quite active and people are generally very generous in sharing their experience. Use it to learn about patient recruitment and other clinical research topics. If you are not a member of ACRP, it’s worth considering. You get a lot of benefits with membership, including a subscription to their magazine “The Monitor.” I find the articles to be extremely high quality and informative.
AccrualNet – The National Cancer Institute created this website to provide strategies, tools, and resources that support clinical trial enrollment. It’s definitely worth checking out. For example, there are some great articles about the patient recruitment experience of others, which can guide you as you plan patient recruitment.
General Health & Disease
Medscape Reference – Medscape is a great resource for getting a quality summary of different diseases. Simply type the disease name into the search box. If you do not have an account, you will be prompted to create one, but it’s free. I’ve found the etiology and epidemiology sections of the disease description to be particularly helpful in understanding the audience.
PubMed – A great resource for finding articles about various health topics
Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) – If you are involved in cancer research, this is definitely a resource to check out. As the name implies, it is a collection of online cancer resources.
Treato – This website is quite new and provides info that is not available elsewhere (at least not for free). Treato combs the web for patient conversations about various diseases and medications. It then presents that information in a way that is useful. For example, if you search a disease, Treato will tell you which medications are most frequently discussed in relation to that disease. If you see a medication frequently discussed, that’s a signal that it’s very popular. If that same medication is an exclusionary medication on your protocol, that’s an indication you could run into problems related to that particular criteria.
ClinicalTrials.gov – Clinicaltrials.gov is the most comprehensive registry of US clinical research studies available. It’s not the most user friendly, but they did make some improvements to the interface in a recent redesign. Clinicaltrials.gov can be used in a variety of ways. For example, you can do a search for a condition and then use advanced search to filter results to currently recruiting studies in the state of North Carolina. This kind of search is a good way to discover studies that might be competing with yours for enrollment.
The Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) – This organization provides study participation info geared towards both professionals and patients.
Coursera – It’s unlikely you’ll find much related to patient recruitment here. But Coursera is a great free (for now) resource for professional development, so I wanted to share it. You can take online classes on a ton of topics, and they have quite a bit of healthcare content. Classes typically last 5-10 weeks. They are taught by university professors who have adapted content from their classes. So classes tend to be very high quality. For example, Coursera is currently offering a class titled “Vaccine Trials: Methods & Best Practices” that is taught by people at the John Hopkins School of Public Health.
How Would You Improve This List?
If you think other resources can be added to improve this list, please note them in the comments or email me directly at [email protected]