Finding Patients for Trials
I am Dr. Jeff Kingsley and this is another edition of Riding in Cars With Researchers! Today we are going to interview Felicia Irvin, who is Director of Sales and Marketing for IACT Health, a multi-specialty research site. She has about a decade of experience in finding patients for research trials. So, how do you find appropriate patients for research trials so you are not wasting the patients time, your own time, and accelerating research?
Traditional Methods vs. Social Media
Let’s start with talking about traditional methods – what traditionally do sites do to find patients for research trials?
Traditional marketing methods use traditional media which you are probably already familiar with like newspaper, radio, and tv. You are not really targeting a specific market with those types of media. Most of your traditional media venues will have data on their audience, but it’s a much wider catchment area. While this is the traditional way, it’s not the way we use as much as some of the other ways I will talk about today.
Why? Why don’t we use traditional methods?
Mostly because you don’t have as much customized marketing. As technology has gotten more and more prevalent, and we are able to track pretty much what everyone does with their cell phone, with browsing history, we are able to create a more targeted marketing campaign. By using different types of marketing such as social media, where you can create a marketing campaign which will focus directly on the type of person that might fit a specific research trial. With social media like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn a person puts in a lot of user information and these platforms know where you live, what your likes are, and what information you are searching for in your browser history. For example, you have probably noticed you will see an ad for something on Facebook about something you searched for yesterday that you wanted to buy on Amazon. This is where you come into the targeted marketing. For example, someone who has just been diagnosed with COPD and is searching for information about the condition, and they see our ad for a COPD trial. It’s a way to reach more patients and, if nothing else, better education for patients. They may not know that a clinical trial is an option if we hadn’t had that ad out there. That is one way we use social media, along with the grassroots part of it, where we do our own website, and our own social media pages where we put information out there and our staff shares it. So those are two big areas of patient recruitment.
With social media, people talk about how it’s freaky how much they know about you. So the downside is privacy is changing across the board, but the upside is you are only seeing ads that are most likely things that you care about.
Absolutely, but the great thing about social media ads is you can choose if you don’t want to see something anymore. For example, if your husband gets on your computer and searches for tractors, you don’t really care about tractors, so you can choose what you see.
So teach me something else – what is another way you find patients?
Another cool way of targeting or marketing is geofencing. You may have noticed when you are browsing the web and you have left a place you frequent a lot. Maybe it’s your local physician’s office. Let’s take the COPD patient for example. Maybe they are leaving their physician’s office and geofencing is focused on an area so think about drawing a fence around a location. All the technology we have with satellites and everyone carrying a cell phone, there are certain data that can be captured about what areas you travel in. So you might have an ad pop up on a website that talks about COPD around a pulmonary practice. You know those patients are going to be there and a lot of marketers are going to use it to say maybe we are going to put an ad about children’s classes around a children’s gym where parents are around the gym and search the internet and they are going to see that ad. That’s a basic way of how geofencing works.
How tight a radius can you get?
It depends on what services you are using but it can be pretty tight and you can choose if you want it to be a mile, or a wider range.
Okay, so what else?
Some non-media types of ways we find patients, the biggest is patient databases. We work with a lot of physicians and every physician has an EMR, or a database where they track a patient’s medical records and information. We are able to go in and help that physician figure out what patients will be suited for the clinical research trial. Rather than go off the physician’s memory, we can go into their database, put a few key words or criteria such as a certain age range or disease state and pull out a list that gives us names of patients. They physically can then look at the list and decide yes or no if that patient will be appropriate for the clinical trial. Then we can give the patient more information, whether in the form of a phone call or something in the mail.
So is this the most accurate way to find patients?
It’s pretty accurate. I don’t know that there is “most accurate” way but it’s a more accurate way of targeting specifically a type of patient for a clinical trial that has a lot of inclusion/exclusion. There is a lot of different things a patient has to have or not have to qualify. So being in their medical record, that is the most accurate picture of their health at that point.
More Ways to Find Patients
So what else do you have up your sleeve?
There are a few other things that we can do. Physicians themselves can refer at any time and that’s a pretty accurate way. If a physician is in the office with the patient, already reviewing their chart, they can say “you look like you are a good fit for a clinical trial”. All the physicians know how to contact us and send the patient over. They can contact our coordinator or call our office. A couple of other ways that we’ve found helpful for studies that can be pretty tricky when it’s based on a lab result or a medication a patient has to be on, we’ve had great help through the different labs that are associated with our clinical sites, looking at the pharmacy records that are associated with the site to see if this patient is on this medicine, this trial, for example, may pay for this medicine. Instead of the patient having to pay for it, we can put them in a clinical trial and get that medication paid for.
I just spoke to a woman an hour ago on a research trial where the medication costs half a million dollars a year. So this patient will get a half a million dollars a year of free medication on this trial.
So you’ve already mentioned 8-9 ways of getting patients into trials, is there more?
The last one I will mention is community events. In each community that we are located in, we want to make sure we are doing plenty of outreach to make sure patients know we are out there, and physicians know that clinical trial research is a treatment option in their community. So we try and make sure we represent ourselves at different health fairs, maybe 5K’s or anything in the community where they are trying to do outreach that has a health focus.
Do you have a favorite? When you are trying to promote a trial, do you pick one?
No, because then you aren’t going to reach your whole audience. You never want to leave anyone out. It will depend on the trial as some trials won’t be appropriate for some types of advertising. We try and use every type of advertising we can so it reaches as many people and patients as possible.
Any last bit of advice?
My advice would be to be a Medical Hero! Our biggest challenge in clinical research is finding patients to participate, so help us, be a participant, and be a Medical Hero.
So revolutionizing research! We’ve talked about how slow it is, how enrollment times go over, so look at this armamentarium. Use all these different methods to find patients for your trials. Great advice! Thank you very much for riding along! Get involved!
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