What You Can Do To Manage Your Study During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Planning for your study

With the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, putting together a plan and consistent communication with your study participants is more important than ever.

By being proactive, you can keep your participants out of harm’s way and minimize delays once your study resumes.

What You Can Do Now

At this time, a lot of studies have been paused or delayed. Even if your study isn’t impacted, it is important to respond to participants’ questions and concerns quickly. Consistent, proactive communication will build trust and maintain your relationship. 

When communicating with study participants, here are a few tips:

  • Practice empathy when messaging participants. With so much fear and uncertainty, you really want to put yourself in their shoes to avoid sounding insensitive or tone-deaf. 
  • If you have the resources available, try to connect with each participant by phone and speak with them directly. Notify them of changes or cancellations to their appointment times depending on your local site conditions.
  • Send an email communication to all participants that provides details about changes to your study timelines and that more information will be provided as it becomes available.
  • Use easy to understand language and avoid technical or scientific jargon that may be confusing. Where possible, explain what a specific term means. For example, if your local area is practicing “social distancing”, describe what it is and why it’s important. 
  • Note that the terms “COVID-19” and “Coronavirus” are being used interchangeably by media, government sources and other online sources. Choose one term and use it consistently to avoid confusion.
  • Emphasize the importance of participant’s individual health and safety during this time.
  • Encourage participants to follow guidance from local, state/provincial, and federal governments.
  • Keep in mind – your current participants and any future recruits may be distracted by other priorities. For example, they may be dealing with school and daycare closures while juggling work responsibilities. 
  • Provide links to information from credible, reliable sources about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and what participants should do if they do feel sick. The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America is a great example that can be widely shared.

If you do choose to continue your study, ensure that you have the staff and resources in place to ensure a positive experience for your participants. If you’re a Trialfacts client, we’ll monitor advertising and recruitment performance, notifying you of any changes in response rates, along with suggestions on whether to pause or continue.

In addition, continue to keep in regular contact with participants. Here are some recommendations:

  • Respond to phone calls and emails quickly. 
  • Be prepared to address concerns about COVID-19 that your participants may have, and share with them any site specific information about things like cleaning procedures, the availability of hand sanitizer and social distancing practices that are in place.
  •  If resources permit, schedule a call with each participant currently enrolled or in screening, to speak with them individually about any concerns they have, answer their questions, and let them know what steps you are taking and why.
  • Monitor advertising and recruitment campaigns for questions or concerns, such as comments on your social media advertising.

What to Do If Your Study is On Hold

Depending on your local conditions and restrictions in place, a pause in recruitment may be the best option to ensure participant safety or other reasons.

Public health measures that restrict travel, or require mandatory closures of workplaces and schools could be in place for weeks or months. While this could pose a significant challenge for your study, there are things you can do now to plan for the future.

Continue to communicate with participants to keep them engaged while your study is paused. Consider sending a regular email update about your study and site conditions as more information becomes available. You could include details about early results from your study, if these are available and can be shared. 

Other content suggestions include links to credible, evidence-based resources about COVID-19 like the World Health Organization’s, Coronavirus Myth-Busters, as well as local news such as what’s happening at the research site. 

For example, if the research site is a hospital, you might want to mention their involvement in treating COVID-19 patients. Or, if it is a university, what’s the latest from university leadership? When will the campus be reopening? And, if a private site, what is the PI saying right now?   

The more information that you can share with participants now will help keep you and your study top of mind as your operations return to normal.

In addition, start a recruitment plan now for when your study resumes. This pause is a great opportunity to develop advertisements for social media, create video or other study material that can be approved by your IRB or ethics committee once site operations return to normal. 

In fact by doing this now, you’ll minimize delays when getting it approved by IRB/ethics committee.

You can take a look at our resources about branding strategies for your study, and our rundown of effective social media advertisements for inspiration.


The COVID-19 pandemic creates a lot of uncertainty for many studies, and in some cases, may result in the stop of any work in progress for a period of weeks or months. Through clear, effective communication with participants, you can continue to keep them engaged while travel and site restrictions are in place. By taking a proactive approach to potential delays in your study timeline and creating a plan for the future, you can effectively manage your recruitment and retention needs.

If you have any questions about participant recruitment and retention during this time, Trialfacts is here to help. Get in touch with us by clicking here.

This post was published on March 19, 2020. 

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