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Using behavioural psychology to improve patient recruitment

Patient recruitment for a clinical trials is a challenging process filled with the potential to alienate participants. By taking a psychological approach you may get better results.

The psychological aspects of clinical trial recruitment strategies for clinical trial marketing and advertising 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

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 clinical trials

For clinical trial marketing and advertising 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 patient drop outs

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.

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17th April 2020

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