Using psychology in patient recruitment strategies

The psychological aspects of patient recruitment strategies for clinical trials deserve some attention. The value of emotion in marketing has been recognised for many years, based on the idea that if you want your consumers to be loyal ambassadors, you have to make them care. This is very true when it comes to clinical trials—people don’t sign up for them for logical reasons, but for emotional ones.


Using emotion in patient recruitment strategies

Research shows that an event charged with emotion has the ability to create powerful memories, which motivate people to take action. The use of strong emotions that resonate with the target audience increases the chances of getting them to make a high-cost purchase, donate to a good cause, or—in this case—sign up for a clinical trial.

The six universal emotions everyone experiences are happiness, anger, disgust, sadness, fear, and surprise, and these can be used not only to recruit participants but to retain them, too.  Some of the areas in which sponsors can use these emotions to their benefit are:


Building trust in the trials process

For patient recruitment strategies to work, it needs to offer dependable and trustworthy messaging. When marketers give a trial an image or “face,” it immediately makes it seem more accessible. This sets it apart from other trials characterised by pages of facts and medical jargon, and it helps to build a level of trust between the sponsor and the potential participants. That’s because materials with memorable images are more engaging than endless textual information, and helps to put people at ease.


Addressing reasons for poor patient retention

Psychology plays an important role in clinical trial retention by helping to identify the reasons why people drop out mid-trial and addressing those through emotion. Some reasons for dropping out include:

  • a concern among participants that they are taking the placebo, which means they aren’t getting any real treatment

  • the inconvenience of attending all the various medical appointments associated with being in a trial

  • the sense that an individual’s contribution to the trial isn’t going to make much of a difference to the outcome.

Addressing these within the right emotional framework can help convince health seekers of the value to others of their participation, the value to themselves if the treatment being tested is successful (even if they are on the placebo), and of the value of the regular medical appointments as a way to monitor their overall health, regardless of placebo status.


Giving personal meaning to participation

It’s important to give participants a personal reason for taking part in clinical trials. By getting people involved in the initial trial design process, you can ensure they are more invested in the process. Being engaged from the outset and having any issues or concerns addressed during the design phase can make them feel a higher level of ownership. Psychologists have proved it’s more difficult for people to disengage from something if they have been involved from the start.


Providing convenience for participants

Few people are interested in taking part in something that inconveniences them, and this is especially true of anyone suffering from a debilitating medical condition. Research shows 73% of clinical trial participants were keen to be able to access their personal records and review how their condition was being managed. Technology offers digital methods to do this securely, as well as making it simple and convenient for participants to interact with the providers and track their data.


Getting buy-in from healthcare professionals

Since healthcare practitioners are in a position to refer many potential participants, it’s vital to get them on board with your clinical trial. Ensuring that they understand the trial fully and can communicate it to health seeker will help them to feel confident about referring, especially those whose treatment criteria may change as a result of the participation.

Encourage practitioner engagement and show them their referral efforts make a difference, by providing them with ongoing feedback and results. Research shows 30% of doctors and 45% of nurses never received any follow-up after referral, and an even higher percentage never received results of trials.


Using the need for informed consent to highlight importance

The legal requirement to get informed consent provides a great opportunity to build on the emotion used in patient recruitment strategies. The patient needs to receive and understand all the information related to their participation in a trial, before they can give consent. Making the information available and easy to understand is an excellent chance to cultivate the understanding and emotion needed in a committed clinical trial participant.


Patient Recruitment

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