Background: Effective recruitment is an essential element of successful research but notoriously difficult to achieve. This article examines health care professionals' views on the factors influencing decision-making regarding referral to a stroke rehabilitation trial.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews and a card-sorting task were undertaken with stroke service staff in acute and community hospital trusts. Data analysis used a thematic framework approach.
Results: Twenty-seven qualified health care professionals from 12 (6 acute and 6 community) hospital trusts and one charity participated. Four main factors emerged: patient-related, professional views, the organisation and research logistics, which all contributed to staff's decision about whether to refer patients to a trial. Clinicians identified patient-related factors as the most frequent influence and considered themselves the patients' advocate. They used their knowledge of the patient to anticipate the patients' reaction to possible participation and tended to only refer those whom they perceived would respond positively. Participants also identified experience of research, a sense of ownership of the project and a positive view of the intervention being evaluated as factors influencing referral. The need to prioritise clinical matters, meet managerial demands and cope with constant change were organisational factors impacting negatively on referral. Staff often simply forgot about recruitment in the face of other higher priorities. Quick, simple, flexible research processes that were closely aligned with existing ways of working were felt to facilitate recruitment.
Conclusions: Patient- and professional-related factors were the most frequent influence on clinicians' recruitment decisions, which often had a 'gate-keeping' effect. Managerial and clinical responsibility to juggle multiple (often higher) priorities was also an important factor. To facilitate recruitment, researchers need to develop strategies to approach potential participants as directly as possible to enable them to make their own decisions about participation; ensure that research processes are as quick and simple as possible; align with existing clinical pathways and systems; and give regular reminders and ongoing support to promote recruitment.
Trial registration: ISRCTN, 98287938 . Registered 6 May 2015.