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There are no silver bullets, only silver shotgun shells - the truth about Participant Recruitment in Research

Patients and volunteers in clinical research come from only two places. Either the clinic staff knows them already, or they don’t. And if they know them as a patient or previous volunteer, well there are a dozen things the staff can and should do to connect with people in a trusted way to generate awareness and interest in a particular opportunity.

For the potential volunteers unknown to the research staff, there are a thousand ways that can be done to reach out and generate interest. You could initiate some wacky ideas like skywriting or put a guy in a gorilla suit on the corner, holding a sign that says, “Research this way →”. Or more sensibly, you could start with a set of tactics like paid search and digital ads. Sometimes even radio and TV still work. And yes there’s a ton of newfangled, whizbang methods as well, from matching EHR records to your protocol, to leveraging existing audiences from a health app or advocacy group. (And yes, yes, yes, the research needs to patient friendly, jive with standard of care, have an optimal onboarding experience and should have patient input. What I am talking about generating initial awareness.)

The point is, there is no silver bullet that does this well. “Participant recruitment is about using silver shotgun shells.” Thanks to my new friend, Paul Grimm, for introducing this phrase to me. For those, like me, who don’t shoot shotguns on the regular, when you pull the trigger on a shotgun, what comes out of the barrel isn’t a single bullet, but instead a scatter shot of very small round, metal projectiles. The idea being, generating awareness in research isn’t going to happen with a singular approach. In fact, it would be naive and frankly unfair to rely on just one tactic to recruit your volunteers into clinical research.

A good outreach and awareness campaign always needs a great set of channels and a coordinating agency to manage all channels. You’ll want a neutral third party to assess the performance of each channel and make recommendations on what to do the next week or month. Furthermore, clinic staff who are handed these potentially eligible volunteers do not want to deal with different platforms to manage each individual, and so a quality agency should provide a platform to do so in a coordinated, unified way. This goes for brick and mortar, hybrid and decentralized clinical trials.

Some of my old favorites in this space are ReBar Interactive, Clinical Trial Media, Praxis, Clariness, Langland, and The Patient Recruitment Agency. They all do a great job in creating messaging that resonates and generating the right type of awareness, interest and call to action for all those participants that the clinic doesn’t already know. And no, they have never suggested gorilla suits or skywriting.

Final tip: If a company doesn’t offer the ability to work with and manage the performance of any channel, then they are just a channel themselves.