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Are you using digital marketing to locate your clinical trial participants?

Timely and effective patient recruitment is a vital step in a successful clinical trial. However, it is a step that is often expensive and time-consuming. Figures from the NIH show that up to 75% of US investigators fail to meet their enrolment targets, with an alarming 27% failing to recruit a single patient.[1]

With recruitment accounting for as much as third of a trial budget, delayed or underperforming recruitment can cause increased cost, low morale, and in certain cases, trial failure. 

A modern solution

The issues are clear, but what is the solution? The answer may be in the device you are using to read this article. 

Figures from 2014 showed that up to 89% of pharmaceutical companies were failing to notice the potential of non-traditional methods of recruitment.[2] While this is no doubt changing, many companies have plenty of room to improve. To put things into perspective, an estimated 7% of daily searches on Google are health-related – that’s roughly 70,000 every minute.[3]

With regards to social media, we currently have 2.5 billion active Facebook users worldwide.[4] A survey conducted by Wego Health found that in a group of 400 patients, 94% were part of a health-related group on social media.[5] These groups can be engaged with through ad targeting and direct sharing of information. Technology is rapidly changing traditional patient organisations, with many more informal groups arising around specific challenges and conditions.  

Making it happen

At Enzyme Communications, we build bespoke digital campaigns for patient recruitment. Our team has experience in locating and engaging patients with extremely rare disease all the way through to the conditions we are all familiar with. 

We are involved with every aspect of the process – from conceptualisation, delivery of creative material, set up and optimization of campaigns, through to final delivery of suitable patients for the trial. 

We use 5 main platforms to reach audiences – Facebook, Instagram, Google search, YouTube and Twitter – to captivate an audience who, without digital media, may have never come across your trial.

The way that these platforms operate varies. For instance, Google and YouTube are primarily search platforms, which requires the target audience to search for a key word in order to discover the advertised trial. In cases such as these, the patient is more likely to have a vested interest in the trial they have discovered through searching for related terms. 

Alternatively, social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, collect user data over time. This creates a wealth of data which can be utilised to target the relevant audience with trial information. 

In combination these represent a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategy.  

Does it cost?

It is important to note the difference between free content shared on social media and paid advertising. While companies may choose to share free content regarding upcoming trials, typically this will be viewed by fewer people, known as ‘reach’, compared to a paid campaign. 

If free content is available – why would you pay?

Engagement with an advertised post is unparalleled, making it a more effective tool for patient recruitment – particularly in cases requiring a lot of participants.   

Along with paid advertisements, you can make use of “influencer marketing”, where we partner with an online patient group to share relevant content about trials with their membership. This is the modern equivalent of ‘word of mouth’ and can be an extremely efficient way of reaching out to members within a trusted community.

The return on investment for digital marketing is often unmatched. Digital platforms offer the ability to reach a large audience at significantly lower cost per patient versus traditional methods of advertising.  

The Process

Our social media campaigns are often carried out in discrete periods of six weeks, providing us with enough time to test different messages and designs on a range of platforms, and optimise accordingly. In contrast, we use search engines on a permanent basis, capturing people using Google or YouTube to search for a list of carefully designed keywords.  

Other than creating and managing these campaigns, the other crucial part of the job involves an in-depth understanding of the complex set of rules and regulations regarding the advertisement of clinical trials. From the first stages through to going live can take months. Our experience with this process enables us to create efficiency from the start.

Once the campaign goes live, there are two tasks to be kept in mind – optimisation (i.e. the backend – monitoring which ads are performing best, increasing and decreasing budgets depending on what’s necessary), and monitoring engagement. 

Looking to the future

In order to expand the number of patients in clinical trials, and do so more efficiently, the use of digital marketing strategies in healthcare must be brought to the forefront of patient recruitment. 

Our team at Enzyme Communications is excited to be a part of the future of clinical trial recruitment and would love to share the expertise we have acquired with you.

To get in touch, drop us a quick email at contact@enzymecomms.com and we will get right back to you. 


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK50886/

[2] “Industry Usage of Social & Digital Media Communities in Clinical Research.” Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. June 2014

[3] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2019/03/10/google-sifting-one-billion-health-questions-day/

[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

[5] https://www.wegohealth.com/2018/04/02/social-media-healthcare-statistics-to-watch/