Research site finds success with electronic recruitment

Don't underestimate Internet's value

Researchers at the decade-old Medex Healthcare Research Inc. of St. Louis, MO, recognized the value of having a Web presence about five years ago.

"The value of that grows exponentially," says Mark Pinson, MA, CCRC, vice president of Medex Healthcare Research, a multidisciplinary site that runs 40 to 60 trials at four sites.

Watch how quickly false celebrity death stories spread on Twitter, and one quickly sees the power of the Internet, he notes.

"They have to run real news stories saying the person still is alive, which is an example of how pervasive Internet usage is anymore," Pinson says. "Seventy-four% of North Americans use the Internet, so that's a large penetration rate for getting in touch with people."

Electronic media has the advantage of being available 24/7, he says.

"For TV ads and newspapers, the ads have to be placed at the right time, but the Internet is always available," Pinson says.

"Five years ago we started with a simple Web page where people could identify our current trial activity and contact us about those studies," he says. "They were included in our database."

As the database grew with people interested in the organization's research, Medex Healthcare Research expanded its electronic reach to using the email addresses people had voluntarily given the Web site and which were stored in its database, Pinson says.

"Email marketing has been tremendously successful for us," he says. "We capture the email addresses of individuals interested in studies, and we work with companies that have email databases of people with specific conditions."

For example, the CR site sent out an email message about a new hypertension study and at one location consented 50 subjects based on that email marketing effort, Pinson says.

"The great thing about email marketing is it almost costs nothing per patient or the cost per patient is staggeringly low compared to traditional forms of advertising," he adds.

One key to its success is the connection potential subjects already have with the research organization.

"If you're marketing to subjects you already have a history with then the return is much greater than 1%," Pinson says.

Another resource is the study participant recruiter company called ClinicalConnection of Miami, FL, he adds.

The company obtains email information and other data about people who voluntarily signed up to learn more about clinical research, and their information is divided by disease state and geographical location, Pinson says.

"So we'll take that data and send information to people in our zip codes around our sites, and we let them know about our study," he says. "Our largest database is in St. Louis, and it probably has information about 75,000 individuals."

The organization's New York database is the fastest growing with more than 40,000 names so far, he adds.

It takes years to develop a good database, but CR organizations can expedite the process by making certain they have an inviting Web site, Pinson suggests.

"The most important tool a site has is their own Web site," he says. "If you're doing Google ads, where are people going to go? If you're doing email marketing, where do they go?"

CR sites should have a credible Web site that discusses their research and studies, Pinson says.

"Without a Web site, there's no reason to do any other form of advertising," he says.

And the Web site should be a key way to capture potential subjects' email addresses, he adds.

"Once you implement your strategy, it's important to recognize that you'll have to dedicate some time to dealing with referrals," Pinson says. "In our experience, we get much more response to something like this versus a radio ad, and so it takes more staff time to process the referrals."

Medex Healthcare Research has a dedicated recruiting department that handles these inquiries, he says.

"Plenty of sites don't have a recruiting department, so they probably shouldn't take on another project when they're swamped and wouldn't be able to deal with having 150 people calling to screen for a study," Pinson adds.

The site's no-show rates are the same as for clients brought in through traditional advertising, Pinson says.

"Subjects who come in through the Internet are more likely to appreciate electronic contact when they're in the trial," he notes. "So if a coordinator has questions or wants to reschedule an appointment, then these people are more open to receiving emails from our coordinator."

A CR site's Web site should first serve as a marketing tool that explains what research is for people who don't know anything about clinical trials, and it could serve as a way to reach both people who want to enroll in a trial and those who might not be considering study enrollment in terms of their treatment options, Pinson says.

CR sites can reach these types of potential subjects by placing advertisements on Google that will come up when people type in a particular disease name or symptom, he suggests.

For example, if someone suffers from shingles pain and types on that word on Google, the CR site's ad will pop up.

"This might be the perfect opportunity to place a Google ad because you're pushing your message out to these individuals, who might not have considered a study before, and now they have something in their face and talking about research opportunities," Pinson says. "We use only Google because we feel like it's the largest search engine for providers."

A CR organization's Web site also must be listed on all other ads, no matter the medium.

"Our traditional media advertisements list our Web site on every posting," Pinson says. "This helps individuals who may not be ready to call you on the phone yet, so before they call they'd like to learn more about you by checking out a Web side address."