3 Common Barriers to Clinical Trial Enrollment + Tips for Taking Action

3 Common Barriers to Clinical Trial Enrollment + Tips for Taking Action

3 Common Barriers to Clinical Trial Enrollment + Tips for Taking Action


Despite all the good that clinical trials provide, patient enrollment is often an uphill battle. Consider that 80% of clinical trials fail to meet their enrollment timelines and up to 50% of research sites enroll one or no patients. 


There are various reasons that biopharmas struggle to recruit clinical trial patients, but it’s possible to avoid common pitfalls. In this blog, we highlight the three most common barriers to clinical trial enrollment and provide a basic framework for turning things around. 


The 3 Most Common Barriers to Clinical Trial Enrollment


To successfully recruit patients for your clinical trial, it’s necessary to address three barriers head-on:


Barrier #1: Distrust of the Healthcare System


A recent Harris Poll found that 75% of Americans say the U.S. healthcare system fails to meet their needs in at least one way. Distrust of medicine has been building for decades thanks in part to the rise of social media. But up until the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans said they had a positive view of medical doctors.


That all changed after a ‘pandemic of mistrust’ characterized by poor public messaging and rampant misinformation. Really, it’s no wonder why some people are so skeptical about participating in clinical trials. 


This skepticism is especially prominent in minority communities. For example, 55% of Black Americans say they distrust the healthcare system. Though undoubtedly warranted, this distrust makes recruiting diverse patient populations even more challenging. 


The key to success? Building strong relationships within these communities in a natural, organic way. For example, hiring a diverse team of research coordinators and investigators can help you better relate to the communities you’re trying to recruit. These professionals can help you create culturally sensitive ads and recruitment materials that resonate with your target audience. 


Most research coordinators and investigators also have relationships with doctors, nonprofit CEOs, and community-based decision-makers. You may be able to use this vast network of connections to expand your recruitment efforts. 


Barrier #2: Lack of Awareness


Just because you spend 8-10 hours a day thinking about clinical trials doesn’t mean the general public does. To meet your clinical trial’s recruitment efforts and select a diverse patient base, you need to get the message out far and wide. This means using more than one channel to advertise, including:


Print Ads


Print ads might seem old fashioned, but they’re an easy way to connect with patients who might not use smartphones or other modern technology. For example, flyers that include basic information like the study’s eligibility criteria and summary of study activities can be posted at local doctor’s offices, community clinics, and hospital information boards.  


Digital Ads


Digital advertising platforms like Facebook ads and Google AdWords make it easy to target specific patient demographics. Consider partnering with an agency who specializes in this type of recruitment, If you’ve never used digital ads before. This can reduce the risk of common pitfalls, saving you time and money.


Video Ads


Americans watch YouTube videos for an average of 39.7 minutes daily and that number is expected to increase 10% by next year. Getting your clinical trial advertisements in front of these viewers isn’t just a great way to spread awareness, it can be a huge boon to your recruitment efforts, too. Few companies are taking advantage, so there’s lots of potential here! And, with YouTube cracking down on ad blockers, opportunities are ripe for picking.


Video recruitment ads should be quick and concise. Include the following information in a clear but creative way:


  • Basic eligibility criteria
  • A summary of study activities
  • The time commitment required
  • Study team contact information
  • IRB study number and contact information
  • A brief list of the potential benefits


Outside of YouTube, consider playing these ads at local clinics and health fairs. You may also be able to purchase time on local access television or export the audio and convert the ad for use on podcasts and AM/FM radio.


Barrier #3: Financial and Travel Barriers


Enrolling in a clinical trial may seem like a hassle if recruits have to visit with researchers more than one or two times a month. Since many new drugs and therapeutics require constant monitoring, the commitment involved can be a challenging barrier to overcome. 


While there’s no way to eliminate check ins entirely, technology like remote wearables and telehealth certainly help. These tools make it easy to collect data from afar, saving trial participants time and money. 


You might want to consider creating a travel reimbursement program or developing a ride sharing network if remote monitoring isn’t an option. For example, reimbursing patients for gas money can make leaving home more palatable. 


A Simple Framework for Improving Clinical Trial Recruitment


Now that you’re familiar with the three most common barriers to clinical trial recruitment, it’s time to put that information into action. By following a simple patient recruitment framework, you can cast a broader net and increase your chances of success. 


Step one: Draft eye-catching, informative recruitment materials


Make sure your trial recruitment materials include all of the information listed under the ‘video ads’ section above. Include that info and that info alone. You want to educate potential patients without overwhelming them. Use a font that’s easy to read and make sure the colors are eye-catching. Partnering with a digital artist for this process is a worthy investment. These professionals are familiar with design trends and can ensure your ads stand out.  


Step two: Share recruitment materials far and wide


Once your digital, print, audio, and video ads are finalized, spread the word everywhere you possibly can. For example, post your print ads at the library, local health clinics, and hospital information boards. Submit your audio ads to industry podcasts and online radio shows. Likewise, post your video ads on Youtube and share them with your professional network. Make sure to upload them to your social media channels as well. 


At first, it may take some time to gain traction. But, if you target the right communities and consistently focus on your marketing efforts, you’re sure to see an increase in trial signups. 

Step Three: Make trial enrollment easy and hassle-free


Marketing is only half of the equation. To ensure patients stick with the trial, you need to develop a smooth and hassle-free signup process. A little effort goes a long way. Start by creating a system for new sign-ups that includes a welcome message and a printout with answers to commonly asked questions. 


Your welcome message should have information about what to expect during the trial. This includes what patients are expected to do, how often they’ll need to check in for appointments, and if they’ll need to document their symptoms in a notebook. 


The commonly asked questions printout, on the other hand, provides key insights into the research itself and addresses common concerns. This can help put patient’s minds at ease and save you the hassle of answering similar questions over and over again. 


How Planning and Preparation Help Prevent Recruitment Barriers


Recruiting clinical trial patients has always been complicated. But modern technology and public perceptions about the healthcare industry have made things even more so. These obstacles are real, but they aren’t insurmountable. By developing a plan and taking a strategic approach, it’s possible to meet your recruitment goals and get your clinical trial across the finish line. 


Still, you don’t have to do everything on your own. Partnering with a functional research provider, like Harbor Clinical, is one of the best decisions you can make. Our redefined Functional Service Provision (FSP) model provides enhanced flexibility in all aspects of the clinical development lifecycle. To learn more, complete this online contact form or call us at (781) 775-0342.  


Our capabilities include quality assurance, vendor oversight, medical writing, regulatory development, strategic affairs, and more. 

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