Email-Based Recruitment Into the Health eHeart Study: Cohort Analysis of Invited Eligible Patients

J Med Internet Res. 2023 Dec 22:25:e51238. doi: 10.2196/51238.


Background: Web- or app-based digital health studies allow for more efficient collection of health data for research. However, remote recruitment into digital health studies can enroll nonrepresentative study samples, hindering the robustness and generalizability of findings. Through the comprehensive evaluation of an email-based campaign on recruitment into the Health eHeart Study, we aim to uncover key sociodemographic and clinical factors that contribute to enrollment.

Objective: This study sought to understand the factors related to participation, specifically regarding enrollment, in the Health eHeart Study as a result of a large-scale remote email recruitment campaign.

Methods: We conducted a cohort analysis on all invited University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) patients to identify sociodemographic and clinical predictors of enrollment into the Health eHeart Study. The primary outcome was enrollment, defined by account registration and consent into the Health eHeart Study. The email recruitment campaign was carried out from August 2015 to February 2016, with electronic health record data extracted between September 2019 and December 2019.

Results: The email recruitment campaign delivered at least 1 email invitation to 93.5% (193,606/206,983) of all invited patients and yielded a 3.6% (7012/193,606) registration rate among contacted patients and an 84.1% (5899/7012) consent rate among registered patients. Adjusted multivariate logistic regression models analyzed independent sociodemographic and clinical predictors of (1) registration among contacted participants and (2) consent among registered participants. Odds of registration were higher among patients who are older, women, non-Hispanic White, active patients with commercial insurance or Medicare, with a higher comorbidity burden, with congestive heart failure, and randomized to receive up to 2 recruitment emails. The odds of registration were lower among those with medical conditions such as dementia, chronic pulmonary disease, moderate or severe liver disease, paraplegia or hemiplegia, renal disease, or cancer. Odds of subsequent consent after initial registration were different, with an inverse trend of being lower among patients who are older and women. The odds of consent were also lower among those with peripheral vascular disease. However, the odds of consent remained higher among patients who were non-Hispanic White and those with commercial insurance.

Conclusions: This study provides important insights into the potential returns on participant enrollment when digital health study teams invest resources in using email for recruitment. The findings show that participant enrollment was driven more strongly by sociodemographic factors than clinical factors. Overall, email is an extremely efficient means of recruiting participants from a large list into the Health eHeart Study. Despite some improvements in representation, the formulation of truly diverse studies will require additional resources and strategies to overcome persistent participation barriers.

Keywords: advertisement; campaign evaluation; consent; digital health study; eHealth; email; engagement; enrollment; participation; recruitment; registration; research participants.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Electronic Mail*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medicare*
  • Patient Selection
  • United States