Purpose: Patient recruitment remains one of the biggest challenges around conducting a prospective clinical study, often causing substantial delays in the overall study timeline. Virtual recruitment (e.g., social media, email campaigns, online advertising) can be a more efficient method of recruiting study participants than traditional recruiting methods (e.g., on-site, printed flyers) because it can speed up recruitment time and researchers are not limited by geography. In this analysis, our goal was to compare the recruitment time between studies that use virtual recruitment methods and studies that use more traditional recruiting methods.
Methods: In one study that we conducted, we aimed to recruit a broad population of individuals with diabetes by leveraging virtual recruitment channels such as social media and targeted emails. For comparison, we searched the literature for traditionally-recruited condition-specific registries for prevalent diseases with fairly loose inclusion and exclusion criteria (e.g., registries for individuals with diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease risk). In a second study, we aimed to recruit individuals who had previously used a particular health care product. We recruited these individuals via targeted emails. For comparison, we searched the literature for traditionally-recruited studies that had strict inclusion and exclusion criteria, aiming to enroll patients who were required to have used a specific health care product or received a specific intervention or health care service.
Virtual methods were 6-12x faster in recruiting their target patient populations when compared across similar studies
Results: In the first study, 108 individuals were enrolled over a 3 day period, which translates to approximately 36 enrolled patients per day. In comparison, some large condition-specific registries that used more traditional recruiting methods and had multiple sites across the country were able to recruit and enroll approximately 3 patients per day. In the second study, 45 individuals were enrolled in 5 weeks, which translates to approximately 1.3 patients per day or approximately 0.78 days to enroll each patient. In comparison, we found that in similar studies, it can take at least 4-6 days to recruit each patient.
Conclusion: Virtual recruitment can help speed up recruitment time for both broad and specific populations. We plan to continue this work in order to demonstrate how virtual recruitment strategies can be leveraged to efficiently enroll large study populations.