Using Social Media to Increase the Recruitment of Clinical Research Participants

Using Social Media to Increase the Recruitment of Clinical Research Participants

Saliha Akhtar (Seton Hall University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch624
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Abstract

Research has shown that clinical research continues to have difficulty recruiting participants. This problem is expected to increase as the number of clinical trials increases and as there continues to be more focus on complex diseases and treatments. Researchers have typically relied on traditional recruitment methods to recruit participants, which revolve around the physicians and their support staff having the primary role to locate and recruit these participants. However, with individuals using online platforms such as social media to retrieve information, this creates an opportunity for research site personnel to use it as a way to relay information on clinical trial opportunities. Studies that have used social media as a way to recruit participants are discussed. Furthermore, pros and cons of social media for recruitment, along with recommendations that future researchers should consider when deciding whether to implement this type of strategy in their clinical trials will be shared. In general, clinical trial recruitment strategies need to shift to an approach that is not only more targeted, but also has a larger reach. By evaluating the success of studies that have used social recruitment strategies so far, it is evident that future researchers can also achieve recruitment success through social media. Moreover, social media could be a promising new avenue for clinical trial recruitment that allows for a more positive experience for both investigative site personnel and potential participants.
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Introduction

Clinical trials are research designed to evaluate ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions (National Institutes of Health, 2015). Despite their importance, it has become increasingly challenging to enroll participants in clinical trials. According to Mahon, Roberts, Furlong, Uhlenbrauck, and Bull (2015), a high number of clinical trials fail to recruit the necessary number of participants. Multiple studies have been conducted to estimate how many fail, and although they vary in the exact number, researchers recognize and agree that insufficient recruitment is a significant problem that continues to exist in clinical trials. As the number of clinical trials increases (Inventiv Health, 2013), as there is an increased focus on research that involves more complex diseases and specialized medicines, and as researchers work to develop treatments that are better targeted to patients (Akhtar, Israel, & D’Abundo, 2015), the problem of insufficient recruitment will continue to grow unless changes are made to the recruitment process.

In general, researchers rely on traditional recruitment methods to enroll participants. Traditional recruitment methods revolve around the physicians and their support staff having the primary role to locate and recruit these participants. This could include them personally recruiting patients, searching their patient databases, or through printed materials such as flyers and newspapers (Tanner, Kim, Friedman, Foster, & Bergeron, 2015). Although these ways can lead to the recruitment of some participants, they prove to be limited to a small patient population and are not aligned with changing times. In recent years, medical information is becoming more available to patients on the internet. Similarly, according to the Pew Research Center (2014), 87% of adults use the internet. In fact, many patients are now using the internet as the first source to retrieve health-related information such as on physicians, diagnoses, and therapies (Omurtag, Jimenez, Ratts, Odem, & Cooper, 2012). Furthermore, individuals are becoming more informed when it comes to health-related issues and are taking a bigger role in their healthcare decisions. In fact, when experiencing symptoms, many individuals are first searching the internet before deciding to see a physician (Shere, Zhao, & Koren, 2014). Despite this, recruitment strategies have not adapted with these changes. “What most in the industry have not yet adjusted to is the fact that patients and caregivers have changed how and where they seek and find information – especially healthcare information” (Inventiv Health, 2013, p. 6). With individuals using online platforms to retrieve information, this creates an opportunity for research site personnel to use it as a way to relay information on clinical trial opportunities.

More specifically, social media is an online platform where discussions and engagement can take place between individuals, online communities, and research staff (Shere et al., 2014). It is a platform that can be used to discuss or disseminate information on clinical trials. Grajales lll, Sheps, Ho, Novak-Lauscher, and Eysenbach (2014) found that social media is being used to increase and maintain communications across the different stakeholders, which could include communications between research site personnel and potential participants. Therefore, using social media could be an avenue for investigative site personnel to use to disseminate information on clinical trials to potential participants.

This chapter will review clinical research studies that have successfully utilized social media strategies in recruitment, along with the conclusions and recommendations that future researchers should consider when deciding whether to implement this type of strategy in their clinical trial recruitment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Networking: Websites or applications allowing individuals to interact with other users such as those with similar interests.

Participant Recruitment: Finding and enrolling the best-qualified patients in a clinical trial in order to answer research question.

Clinical Research: Research that directly involves humans or that utilizes materials from humans (such as blood or tissue).

Social media: Web-based tools that allow for various types of communication or information sharing.

Investigative Site Personnel: Teams of healthcare professionals who are led by principal investigators and are responsible for carrying out the protocol.

Clinical Trials: A type of clinical research where individuals are assigned to intervention(s) to evaluate the outcomes.

Principal Investigator: A primary researcher who is responsible for conducting a clinical research study or trial as per the protocol.

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