A novel approach to conducting clinical trials in the community setting: utilizing patient-driven platforms and social media to drive web-based patient recruitment

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2020 Mar 13;20(1):58. doi: 10.1186/s12874-020-00926-y.


Background: Participant recruitment for clinical research studies remains a significant challenge for researchers. Novel approaches to recruitment are necessary to ensure that populations are easier to reach. In the context of rare diseases, social media provides a unique opportunity for connecting with patient groups that have representatively lower diagnosis rates when compared with more common diseases or illness. We describe the implementation of designing a patient-centered approach to message design for the purposes of recruiting patients for clinical research studies for rare disease populations.

Methods: Using an iterative research approach, we analyzed our previous experience of using web-based direct-to-patient recruitment methods to compare these online strategies with traditional center of excellence recruitment strategies. After choosing six research studies for inclusion in the previous study, in-depth, online interviews (n = 37) were conducted with patients represented in each disease category to develop and test recruitment message strategies for social media and a Web-based platform for patients to access study information and pre-screen. Finally, relationships were established with Patient Advocacy Groups representing each rare disease category to ensure further dissemination of recruitment materials via their own social media networks.

Results: Guided by social marketing theory, we created and tested various recruitment message designs. Three key message concepts preferred by patients emerged: (1) infographic; (2) positive emotional messages; and (3) educational information for sharing. A base study website was designed and created based on data from patient interviews. This website includes the option for potential participants to pre-screen and determine their eligibility for the study.

Conclusions: Study participants report wanting to be involved in the design and implementation of recruitment approaches for clinical research studies. The application of the aforementioned methods could aide in the evolution of clinical research practices for the recruitment of both rare and common diseases, where patient-centric approaches can help to create targeted messages designs that participants pre-test and support.

Keywords: Clinical research; Patient recruitment; Patient-centered research; Rare diseases; Research recruitment; Social marketing theory; Social media; Social media recruitment; Web-based recruitment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Patient Selection*
  • Rare Diseases / diagnosis
  • Rare Diseases / therapy*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Social Media*
  • Social Networking