Background: Despite having many advantages, online eHealth trials are not without challenges-notably, participant recruitment, and outcome data retention. Moreover, publications from these trials rarely provide detailed information on the methods used for recruitment and retention or discuss implications of the methods for future studies.
Objective: To address this need for empirical guidance regarding recruitment and outcome data retention planning, we aim to describe the methods and lessons learned from the recruitment and retention procedures used in a large randomized trial of 2 Web-based smoking cessation interventions.
Methods: To ensure a demographically and geographically diverse participant sample, we used the recruitment strategies (1) traditional, (2) Web-based, and (3) online survey panel methods and adaptively modified each in response to recruitment success. At baseline, participants indicated how they heard about the study and answered demographic questions. To maximize trial retention at each of the 3-, 6-, and 12-month assessment points, 4 survey modalities (first Web, followed by phone, mail, and postcard) were sequentially timed over a 30-day period. Participants received US $25 for submitting their responses, regardless of modality, and received an additional US $10 bonus for completing the Web survey within 24h of electronic notification.
Results: We randomized 2637 smokers in 16 months and achieved 88% retention at 12-months. Participants (79.26% female, 72.60% Caucasian) were recruited from all 50 states. The majority of participants were recruited through Facebook (49.43%), followed by the survey panel (20.85%), free internet sources (14.54%), traditional media (11.34%), and Google ads (3.84%). Descriptively, participant demographics varied by recruitment source. Of the completed follow-up surveys, most were completed by Web (92%). Retention rates did not vary by recruitment source.
Conclusions: Continuous monitoring and refinement of multiple recruitment methods, particularly of online advertising campaigns, allowed us to maximize the effectiveness of recruitment strategies in recruiting a large, diverse sample of smokers. Likewise, offering multiple follow-up survey modalities in sequential order along with time-dependent bonus incentives enabled us to obtain outcome data from a very high level of enrolled participants for the duration of the trial protocol. These strategies may be similarly useful in other trials.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01812278; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01812278 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/71gy5GLvO).
Keywords: RCT; randomized controlled trial; recruitment; retention; smoking cessation; web intervention.
©Noreen L Watson, Kristin E Mull, Jaimee L Heffner, Jennifer B McClure, Jonathan B Bricker. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 24.08.2018.