Background: Recruitment of women in the periconceptional period to clinical studies using traditional advertising through medical establishments is difficult and slow. Given the widespread use of the internet as a source for medical information and research, we analyze the impact of social media in the second phase of an ongoing randomized, open-label clinical trial among pregnant women. This study aims to assess the effectiveness of social media as a recruitment tool through the comparison of diverse recruitment techniques in two different phases of the trial.
Methods: Recruitment in Phase 1 of the study consisted solely of traditional healthcare-based sources. This was compared to Phase 2 of the study where traditional recruitment was continued and expanded, while social media was used as a supplementary source. Yearly recruitment and recruitment rates in the two phases were compared using the Mann Whitney U test. The contributions of each recruitment source to overall recruitment were analyzed, and the impact of potential confounders on recruitment rate was evaluated using a multiple regression and Interrupted Time Series Analysis.
Results: In the first phase of the study, with over 56 months of recruitment using traditional sources, 35 women were enrolled in the study, resulting in a mean rate of ±0.62 recruits/month. In the 6 months implementing recruitment through social media, 45 women were recruited, for a 12-fold higher rate of ±7.5 recruits/month. Attrition rates remained constant, suggesting that social media had a positive impact on recruitment. The Interrupted Time Series Analysis detected a significant difference in recruitment after the intervention of social media (p<0.0001) with an evident increase in the number of recruits observed after the use of social media.
Conclusions: Clinicians and scientists recruiting for clinical studies should learn how to use online social media platforms to improve recruitment rates, thus increasing recruitment efficiency and cost-effectiveness.