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Why Facebook is not the solution to inclusive patient recruitment

With so many clinical trials underway to find an effective vaccine for COVID-19, the competition is rising. More and more organisations will be looking to recruit healthy volunteers, while ensuring inclusion and diversity in clinical trials, to complete their mission of finding a vaccine and making it available to the public as quickly as possible.

It’s understandable that many will turn to digital outreach as a solution to engage with so many people in a short space of time. What better way than reaching out to billions on Facebook, where so many people will see your ad for the clinical trial? Simple, right?

With 2 billion daily users, Facebook is one of the most powerful ways to reach patients. Plus, its wide reach, variety of ad types, and targeting options make it a promising tool for advertising clinical trials. However, a recent announcement from Facebook could hinder these benefits.

Facebook is limiting its targeting options

In August 2020, Facebook announced that they’ve been reviewing and refining their targeting options, to make it easier for advertisers to find and use targeting that will deliver the most value for businesses and people. And to streamline the options they provide, they’re removing options that are not widely used by advertisers.

As a result, they’ve taken the decision to withdraw the specific 'multicultural affinity’ targeting option, which used to be available in the US. This targeting option previously allowed marketers to reach users based on a ‘multicultural affinity’ for certain racial and ethnic groups, including African Americans and Hispanics.

For example, it allowed users to be solicited based on a category related to the data collected from their Facebook activity. Instead, Facebook are now encouraging advertisers to use other targeting options such as language or culture to reach people that are interested in multicultural content. While this targeting option may have been removed due to misuse, how might this affect patient recruitment that improves diversity in clinical trials? This shows that we cannot solely rely on digital outreach to engage with patients.

The power of patient insights

The industry needs to do more than just digital outreach to reach minorities, as digital alone will never be enough. There needs to be trust and relationships in place to truly build engagement. And that’s where community outreach and gaining patient insights comes in. By getting to know people and understanding their interests and their hobbies, we can circumnavigate the Facebook targeting changes. That’s not to say that Facebook ads are no longer effective – but we cannot solely rely on this approach. Study sponsors need to embrace community outreach and ensure they are engaging patients offline too.

At COUCH Health, we’re big advocates for improving diversity and inclusion in clinical trials. Find out more about how we can support you and your trial with this, such as through community outreach, at

This blog was first published here:

2nd October 2020



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