From The Editor | October 31, 2018

Traditional Digital Advertising Rules Don't Apply To Patient Recruitment

Ed Miseta

By Ed Miseta, Chief Editor, Clinical Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @EdClinical

Digital Advertising

Syneos Health has released the results of a study conducted to gather real-world patient insights into the effectiveness of digital advertising to assist with clinical trial recruitment. The study was conducted online and involved 432 patients in the U.S. with epilepsy and migraine, two conditions with active late-phase pipelines. The patients were about equally split between male and female, with 91 percent being white. All were in the U.S.

Social media has taken an increasingly important role in patient recruitment. A research report from Consumer Health Online found 75 percent of Americans are now looking up medical-related information online at least monthly. From the sponsor company perspective, social media offers more granular targeting capabilities, efficient pricing for ad delivery, and increased variability in creative execution than traditional forms of marketing. The Tufts Center has found only 11 percent of clinical trials currently use social media to recruit patients, leaving a lot of room for growth.

With those statistics as a background, the study was conducted to help digital marketers better understand patient perceptions surrounding online clinical trial advertising. It evaluated patient trust levels with specific online channels and platforms as well as what factors contributed to content success.

Patient recruitment for trials has always been difficult. With personalized therapies and precision medicine treatments now making their way into clinical trials, finding the right patients will become even more challenging. As a result, social media advertising will play an increasingly important role in trial recruitment.

Patients Remember Ads

The study, titled Content That Clicks: Effective Social Marketing for Clinical Trial Recruitment, notes four key findings.

First, the recall rate of clinical trial ads is high. In other words, patients who see these ads will later recall having seen them. This is certainly different than most traditional advertising efforts. Sixty-six percent of epilepsy patient respondents and a whopping 79 percent of migraine respondents recalled seeing clinical trial advertising.

When asked where they recall seeing the ads, most respondents cited television ads, followed by Facebook, and their doctor’s office. Other sources garnering over 20 percent of responses by either epilepsy or migraine patients were online patient communities, search engines, newspapers, and radio. LinkedIn was cited by just 8 percent of epilepsy patients and 0.6 percent of migraine patients. Respondents were also asked what social media platforms they use regularly to read or post content. YouTube was number one, followed by Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Clinical trials expose patients to new and unfamiliar treatments. That makes patient trust in sponsors and investigators essential. Advertising decisions should, therefore, be made in a way that maximizes that trust.

The study found that high trial intenders have a significant trust of social media. High trial intenders are defined as individuals who indicated a high intent to enroll in a clinical trial. These individuals showed high levels of trust in every digital information source outlined in the study, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In terms of the level of trust placed in these sources, most social media channels were clustered closely together. YouTube was the most trusted channel. In fact, trust in YouTube amongst those with high intent to enroll in a trial was 19 percent higher than those with low intent.

Patients Trust Their Doctors

We know that patients have a high level of trust in their physicians, and those professionals were cited as the most trustworthy source of information. In terms of trustworthiness, physicians were followed by patient advocacy groups and medical/health websites.

A third finding notes that the trust level in healthcare professionals also translates into creative imagery. In the study, patients were shown two ads. One ad featured a doctor in a lab coat. The other featured a woman in obvious discomfort. The creative imagery that featured the physician outperformed the other image by nearly 10 percent.

Unfortunately, patients in the survey did not place a lot of trust in pharma companies. Pharma ranked last amongst the survey options, trailing behind sources such as other patients, family members, and friends.

Deliver The Right Emotional Message

Pharma is focused on the promise that their medicines offer patients. Therefore, an ad for a migraine treatment might tend to picture a patient who looks healthy and happy. That aspirational tone might look good in ads but can miss the target by not being relatable to patients. The study found people living with migraines were more likely to click on an image of a person who appeared to be experiencing a headache or other type of pain. The study also found illustrations outperformed stock photography, possibly because photography requires the user to identify with the real person in the photo. If you don’t relate to the person, it can negatively impact the advertising.

Finally, standard social rules may not apply when attempting to recruit patients. On social media, shorter content is typically viewed as the gold standard. However, this study found that with clinical trial social ads, longer content performed better. Eighty-one percent of responders who indicated their condition has a high negative impact on their quality of life preferred an ad with longer and more detailed copy. 

One additional piece of information in the survey is worth discussing. Participation rates in clinical trials are low, and the reasons for not participating are numerous. Respondents were asked what might keep them from opting to participate in a clinical trial. Transportation issues ranked number one, followed by the lack of payment for the time invested. Both issues could be reduced or eliminated with some amount of investment by pharma. Coming in third was concern over receiving a placebo, followed by lack of time and concerns over privacy.

The worlds of patient recruitment and social marketing will continue to become more intertwined. That will make it essential for sponsors and agencies to invest the time necessary to deeply understand the needs of their target audience. As the report notes, targeting the right audience with the right message on the right channels can make a meaningful difference in patient recruitment.