By Howard Johnson, head of practice, CRO & Vendor Services, RBW Consulting
Over the years, working in a role that encompasses clinical trial recruitment and employment has provided me with the unique perspective on the parallels between both. As this article explores, there are a surprising number of lessons that that can be learned from and applied to each sector.
1. Go Hybrid Or Go Home
From cars to office culture, we’re living in an age where hybrid models are the norm. This is also true for both employee and patient recruitment, which has seen a huge facelift in terms of how it operates as a sector.
In the world of employee recruitment, the post-pandemic workforce has become so accustomed to the freedom and flexibility that working from home allows that almost 57% of workers are now choosing to work remotely at least part of the time1. Furthermore, 86% of employees want to keep working remotely for at least part of the time2. Employees also want to know about these hybrid working practices in advance of accepting a role, indicating that these modern working practices are not a phase but are, in fact, here to stay.
Initially accelerated as a result of the pandemic, trial recruiters have also since found that providing a greater level of flexibility and accessibility has created a better all-round experience that not only results in minimal disruption for patients but also increases enrollment rates. This is something of paramount importance given that there is, on average, a 30% dropout rate in clinical trials3. Being able to deliver trials in a way that has the participant experience at its heart has become a true competitive advantage by allowing participants to more easily factor in trial participation around their everyday lives, save time and money on extensive travel and generally staying better connected with the trial and its requirements.
2. Adopting A Proactive Mindset
With the demand for talent far outstripping supply, organizations can no longer rely on candidates coming to them. Instead, companies need to proactively go after the people they want to attract. This involves deploying savvy marketing tactics such as investing in strong employer branding and making the most of specialist consultancy support.
The same is true for the world of clinical trials, which has also been forced to find new ways to adapt in order to survive. With 85% of trials failing to retain enough participants4, accelerating the uptake and progress of trials has been central to the industry’s productivity, which again has required heavier investment in marketing activity than ever before. Utilizing social media channels and the targeting options available on those platforms is often a very successful and effective way to target would-be trial participants. And, while it’s an up-front cost that can feel painful, particularly in today’s tough financial climate, it’s a move that nearly always pays off in the long run and helps to achieve overall objectives more quickly.
3. Innovate To Accumulate
Seismic shifts in the talent landscape have forced job recruiters to become even more innovative and agile. Talent teams are having to be creative to attract the diverse pools of talent their clients want to employ. This involves utilizing alternative sourcing channels, such as employee referral schemes, and new technology solutions such as AI to help identify the candidates with the most potential.
The same goes for teams recruiting for trials. Remote site access and virtual communications platforms, once deemed an inconceivable way of working, are now being rolled out as standard inpatient programs. While switching to a fully remote trial can be a costly experience, with teams needing to learn new systems and processes, the proliferation of remote working apps such as Zoom, Teams, and Florence (a secure file-sharing program) has made adding even the smallest degree of flexibility to most trials possible. Remote site access also can ensure the sponsor, CRO, and research site are fully connected, while patients can also fill out online evaluations and maintain a video connection with their health care professional on a flexible basis.
4. Prioritize The Candidate Experience
In both worlds, it’s clear that high retention rates are reliant on positive experiences across the board. Talented people know they have multiple options, and they’re not afraid to say no to an offer if their expectations aren’t met. This was reflected in a recent survey by PwC, in which 49% of respondents reported they would decline a job offer because of a poor recruitment experience5.
Similarly, patients will quickly drop out of a trial if it becomes too inconvenient for them to take part. A patient dropping out can be due to a number of factors, but it’s fair to say that before the move to decentralized trials, trial participation could often be expensive due to the need to take time off work and travel costs (70% of participants live 2 hours away or more from sites6). It makes sense, therefore, that prioritizing the patient experience not only has a positive impact on patients but also goes a long way toward trial completion and bringing new drugs to market.
5. No Diversity Without Inclusion
From the clothes we wear to the ads on our TV, never before has so much consideration been given to who we include and how we include them.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) practices have become a central focus for HR teams in today’s competitive talent landscape. According to a survey by Culture Amp on DE&I hiring practices, 70% of companies have a diversity and inclusion policy within their hiring process7. Some organizations have even gone as far as including an anonymous screening process to further reduce bias; however, only 18% of companies are reporting using this practice8.
Similarly, the move toward decentralized trials has allowed for broader inclusivity in recruitment. For example, one study in the U.S. used a network of barber shops to improve blood pressure control among Black men. The trial enrolled a cohort of 319 Black male patrons from 52 Black-owned barbershops. The barbers encouraged meetings in the shops with specialty-trained pharmacists who prescribed treatment under a collaborative practice agreement with the participants’ doctors. The study saw a retention rate of 95% — an important and impressive example of “meeting participants where they are.” 9
Whatever the process or sector, it is essential that organizations continue to prioritize inclusivity if they are to have services, medicines, and organizations that are fit to serve the people that rely on them.
One thing is for certain: Whether in the world of employment or clinical trials recruitment, if recruits can’t find what they’re looking for from you, they will find it from someone else or fail to engage entirely. We’re all in the people business after all, so building your business first around people — and not process —will always win.
- W Alexander, “The Uphill Path to Successful Clinical Trials, PT 38(4): 225–227 (2013). Available at: https://bit.ly/uphill-trials
- Aidan Nuttall Ph.D., White paper ‘Considerations for Improving Patient Recruitment Into Clinical Trials’. https://vertassets.blob.core.windows.net/download/64c39d7e/64c39d7e-c643-457b-aec2-9ff7b65b3ad2/rdprecruitmentwhitepaper.pdf
- Dr Pamela Tenaerts, Chief Scientific Officer, Medable https://www.biospace.com/article/clinical-rockstar-pamela-tenaerts-advancing-patient-centric-trials-at-medable/
- A cluster-randomized trial of blood-pressure reduction in black barbershops N. Engl. J. Med., 378 (2018), pp. 1291-1301. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1717250
About The Author:
Howard Johnson is head of practice, CRO & Vendor Services at RBW Consulting, specialist search consultants in the life sciences space whose primary goal is to service the global CRO and vendor services market.