Social Media Challenges and Solutions


Before a clinical trial can even have a hope of succeeding, it needs one thing: patients. Faced with a limited amount of recruitment time and even smaller budgets, companies often fall short of reaching their recruitment goals.

In yesterday’s session, "Technology-Based Solutions and Social Media Strategies for Patient Recruitment, Enrollment, and Retention," John Burnett, CEO and Founder of JAPA Associates, and Dennis Upah, Executive Vice President of HealthCentral, discussed how social media can help recruit more patients in a less expensive and faster manner than other tactics used in the past. The session touched on how to develop effective marketing and communication by leveraging technology for patient recruitment and how to determine key considerations in your strategy with different therapeutic areas. Attendees also learned about relatively new FDA regulations regarding social recruitment.

Another topic addressed during the session was best practices of the use of technology in patient recruitment abroad versus in the United States. Research indicates that there are similar conversion rates for online recruitment throughout the world. Although some companies might want to avoid using social media at all in the United States, doing so would mean missing out on one of the best ways to reach its targeted demographic.

Besides offering a more efficient way of recruiting patients whether in the United States or abroad, social media allows companies to find the specific type of patient they are looking for.

“By their very nature, the vast majority of clinical trials are seeking an increasingly narrow audience of potential participants. Continuing, therefore, to rely on a broadcast medium to find them no longer makes sense,” Upah said in an interview with Applied Clinical Trials.

Patients are starting to form their own communities online in order to share information about their specific medical conditions. Pharmaceutical companies can reach out to these groups through informational websites, advertising on social media, and using social media itself. And just because social media may be cheaper, don’t think it means less work.

“An online community has to be nurtured over time, and a variety of tactics need to be tried as each trial in each disease state is different,” Upah said. “It may take a tremendous amount of time to work their way through regulatory issues and build a community that they can create trust with.”

Companies also have to learn how to handle other specific social media issues such as dealing with adverse event reporting in a timely manner, and portraying accurate medical data without destroying the free flow of communication that a social forum should encompass.

In addition, CROs should be aware of the different regulatory guidelines that govern social media. For instance, most regulations currently are for companies that host their own forums rather than for companies that place advertisements on an already-existing site. Thus, because CROs are often given a recruitment period of months and not years, it is often preferable for a company to partner with a health community rather than create a unique forum. Upah stressed the notion that building a relationship was key to receiving the best results regardless of whether or not a CRO forms its own social media group or advertises on an existing one.

“You would not throw a cocktail party without any friends and just expect people to show up. First, you would nurture a relationship with those friends, make them feel safe and trusted, ensure that both you and they feel there is something of value within the relationship, and only then would you throw the party,” Upah said. “Leveraging an online community is the same way.”


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