Whether you’re a seasoned researcher or new to the field, clinical trial recruitment is hard. There’s no doubt about it.
Most researchers focus on creating recruitment flyers, radio and TV advertisements, maybe even trying their hand at online advertising as well. As a result, they don’t realize they already have an invaluable recruitment asset – their participant database.
Participant databases are full of people who have already expressed interest in participating in a research study. All too often, this tool gets overlooked and in the end, this can lead to dire consequences for your study.
Want access to a free downloadable template for your recruitment emails? Click here.
The answer to research recruitment woes: Maximizing your participant database
As they prepare for a new clinical trial or health research study and begin planning for recruitment, most researchers immediately gravitate toward “traditional” recruitment methods of putting up flyers, buying radio and TV ad spots, or relying on word-of-mouth. What they fail to realize, however, is that they often have an invaluable tool already at their disposal: Email.
When anyone signs up for something these days, they’re asked for an email address. This seemingly insignificant line on your intake form is arguably the most valuable piece of information you have about your study participants or clinic patients.
Why emailing your patient database works
Email is potentially the single most valuable piece of information you have about potential participants. All too often, researchers overlook this fact or assume they don’t actually have a database to pull from.
You may think you don’t have an email database or that you don’t have access to one, but chances are you do. If you’ve completed previous studies, you surely have a list of your participants in your files with contact information including their email addresses.
Even if you don’t have your own list, you likely have somewhat easy access to someone else’s. Perhaps you work with a clinic that has a patient list or your university is willing to include information about your study in a newsletter.
If you stop and think for a moment, you may suddenly realize you have access to more email inboxes than you’d imagined.
Here’s why obtaining email addresses matters and why emailing your database works for study recruitment.
You have complete control over your list of email addresses.
First, unlike your followers on social media or other external platforms, you literally own your email list. Your patients and study participants have willingly given you their email addresses for free and you are in control of how you use that information.
This means you can email at any time without any specific restrictions or requirements made by online or traditional advertisers and – here’s the best part – you can do it essentially for free.
“If you stop and think for a moment, you may suddenly realize you have access to more email inboxes than you’d imagined.”
You’re reaching out to a group of individuals who likely know or recognize you.
Secondly, your email list is a group of what advertisers and marketers call “warm leads.” This means they know you or your work. Therefore, they’re more likely to stop and look at whatever it is you’re sending.
Even in an inbox full of emails, when your participant candidates recognize your “from” name or something in the subject line of your email, they’re more likely to open the message and take a look.
When you’re advertising to a “cold” list of leads on social media or via traditional recruitment methods, you lose out on this attention-grabbing phenomenon.
How to write effective recruitment emails
Your most valuable recruitment asset is your email list database – hands down. That being said, in order to connect with your participants, you need to think like them.
To maximize the effectiveness of your email, use the Participant Perspective Model to craft your message.
Here are 4 important key elements to include.
1. A catchy subject
The first place you’ll catch your participants’ attention is in your subject line. If your study doesn’t already have a catchy title, take a little more liberty to try crafting a more clever subject line for your email.
After all, this is the smallest component of your message. You don’t need to include a lot of information here – that will come later.
2. Need-to-know details about your study
To get started, make a list of points to explain your study, what’s involved, and why someone might participate.
We’ve found the best way to do this is to sum up your study in approximately 20-50 bullets that describe your trial. As you create your list, do your best to avoid jargon when possible and try to write in a conversational tone. Remember that you’re writing this to communicate with people outside your field, not other clinicians.
Be clear about who, specifically, is eligible to participate. Moreover, help candidates understand why they should participate if they’re eligible and the greater impact their participation will make in the long-run.
Finally, revisit the Participant Perspective Model to improve those bullet points and descriptions.
3. Clean up your letter
Use your list of cross-checked bullet points and reformat them into a letter. This will be your email body.
For clarity, you may choose to leave some bullets in your letter so candidates can see participation eligibility points at a glance and quickly determine if they’re right for the study. However, the majority of your email should be an actual letter.
If you have one, attach a digital copy (PDF or other image-format file) of your recruitment flyer or information sheet. This will help you make your case for why participants should join the study if they’re eligible and may also help explain the study procedures.
4. Conclude with a clear action
Finally, include a link (again, if you have one) to your online prescreening questionnaire. Make it as easy as possible for your recipients to get in touch if they’re interested.
If you don’t have a link, be very specific about what action recipients should take to get involved in your study. There should be a single action to avoid any confusion.
Sample recruitment email for research study
Subject Line: Do mealtimes matter?
Subhead: You can contribute to Diabetes Research
Our team has been working on a new research study and we need your help.
Our goal of this new study is to see if consuming food within a smaller window of time during the day can help regulate glucose levels in people with Type 2 Diabetes.
If we are able to regulate the glucose levels with diet, managing the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes will be a bit easier and could also potentially reduce the risk of future disease development for people across the globe.
Would you like to help? To see if you are eligible, please read the requirements below.
Why You Should Participate:
- You may experience an improvement in type 2 diabetes symptoms.
- You will be reimbursed $250 in supermarket vouchers.
- You will receive individual results from glucose monitors worn for the six-week study.
- You will be provided a detailed dietary analysis that could be helpful in managing symptoms of diabetes.
- You will be helping to advance medical research.
Who Can Participate?
- Men and women aged between 35-65 years old
- Those who have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and are taking up to 2 medications (not including insulin)
- Those who are NOT currently on a strict diet regimen (i.e. vegan, coeliac/gluten-free, ketogenic)
- Those able to attend 8 study visits at the research site over approximately 7 weeks
If you fit these requirements and are interested in helping, sign up for the study by clicking the link here.
Please let me know if you have any questions we could answer. Thank you for helping to improve the lives of people with Type 2 Diabetes.
ABC Health Sciences
If you need some help crafting your message, download our fill-in-the-blank email template.
BONUS: Test different emails and follow up
In the world of email marketing, there’s also consistent research happening. It’s common knowledge that some emails perform better than others. This is why email marketers engage in something called “split-testing.”
Get into the habit of split-testing. Create two different emails by altering either the subject line or the information in your letter. Then send each of your two emails to opposite halves of your list (one email to 50% of your list and the other email to the other 50%) and compare your results. Look for your open rate and response or click-through rate if you’ve linked to your prescreening questionnaire.
If you have a large database, you can test your emails even further. Start by sending both email versions to 10-20% of your list and determine which one is performing better – either by open rates or, ideally, click-through rate (to your prescreening questionnaire) or next-step responses. Then, send the version that’s performing better to the rest of the database. This can also be a nice way to space out your responses so you can follow up with them all promptly.
If you’re not already set up with one, using an email provider platform like Mixmax will help you track all your statistics. In many cases, these services can be used for free. Avoid platforms like MailChimp and Mailerlite to get better open rates and avoid your email being pushed into the “promotions” inbox in email service providers like Gmail.
Using email platforms like Mixmax allow you to track and optimize the emails you send to your participant database.
Finally, make sure to follow up with your email recipients if you’re able to send more than one initial email. This crucial step is often overlooked or under-appreciated by researchers. Remember how many views you need just to get a single participant enrolled to a study? Following up with a second email will help you get one step closer to full enrollment.
Email can positively impact your recruitment
So many studies – more than 85% of them – are delayed due to poor enrollment. It’s not difficult to see why when you consider that many researchers are using ineffective recruitment methods and forgetting the value of their own databases.
While the “old school” methods of creating recruitment flyers and using traditional media to run advertisements used to work, it’s actually been outdated for years. With the growing competition of studies and the fight for all consumers’ attention – not to mention the amount of time and effort these advertisements require to create – the old methods simply aren’t effective anymore.
If you have access to a database of potential candidates that have expressed interest in participating in research, you have an invaluable tool at your disposal. Don’t wait – use it!
With so much competition for our attention, it’s also hard to stand out. Whether you realize your advertising shortcomings or not, leveraging the expertise of marketing specialists will lead to a better study with higher recruitment rates and stronger results.
Effective promotional material, like emails to your patient and participant database, will give you more time to focus on your research, keep your study on track, make progress and finish on time (or even ahead of schedule!), develop a better track record, and ultimately do more important and novel research.
Alternatively, if you’re dead-set on doing recruitment yourself, be sure to consult the Participant Perspective Model. This will help you ensure you’re on the right track and communicating effectively with your candidates.
Getting help from the experts
Looking for some help? We’re here! Researchers are often surprised that our recruitment service is within their budget and, in the long run, actually saves them both time and money.
No matter the size of your study, we’ll put together a solid recruitment plan for your trial. There’s never any cost or obligation for your plan – it’s our gift to you.
Leave your trial promotion to the experts so you can focus on your world-class research. Don’t waste any more time (or funding) trying to go it on your own.