• Dr. Christine Senn, PhD

Clinical Trial Marketing: How to Speak to Your Patients

Christine:

Well, hi Heather! It's so exciting to have you here to talk about how we speak to patients in clinical research. So, I'd love for you to introduce yourself to our audience.

Heather:

Thanks, Christine! It's great to be here. My name's Heather Rushton and I am a Patient Engagement Supervisor with Centricity Research. So I am in Halifax, Nova Scotia, up in Canada, and I oversee therapeutic areas related to Dermatology Trials, Alzheimer's Disease, Movement Disorder, and Oncology Trials in both the US and Canada. And I've been with the company for almost two years and I'm happy to be here.

Christine:

So, how do we talk to patients? How can clinical trial sites make potential patients feel more interested in research? Excited in research?

Heather:

That's a great question, Christine. So we know as researchers that there are a lot of amazing reasons to participate in these clinical trials, but our perspective patients might not have considered those reasons, so there tends to be 2 main paths to building that initial interest: (1) helping someone feel that they're taking control of their own health conditions or (2) helping someone else feel that they are contributing to helping other people in the future so in the recruitment and marketing part of patient engagement. We want to be sure that we're using the best messaging possible to spark that initial interest. Meaning, clear and concise (words), using words that are not overly scientific, an invitation to join or participate is usually a good starting point, something like "come be part of this opportunity that is relevant to you."

Christine:

Yeah, that's a really good point. I mean, so few people have even heard of research and then trying to introduce the concept... it's hard, and they have to figure out their motivation. There are really a lot of steps that go into it. So, I also know that there are a lot of rules about what promises can or cannot be made in clinical research like advertising and marketing. So, how do you comply with those ethics rules and still draw patients into the clinic?

Heather:

That's a hard one that's an ongoing “dance” that we do every day in research. So, for those who aren't familiar with clinical research ethics, we are required to have patient-facing material that is intended to help with recruitment be approved by an external research ethics board. This is to ensure that we, as researchers, are not being coercive or dishonest about what someone might expect when they enter into a clinical trial. So once you've kind of been in the game a while, you start to learn what ethics boards will accept and what will have to be revised. For example, we couldn't put out a social media ad that says "We will cure your arthritis!" because that's not necessarily true, but we could say: "Come join our clinical trial to help test a medication that may reduce your symptoms.".

I work primarily in Alzheimer's disease trials, and our recruiters have to be really careful when they're speaking to prospective patients not to give any impression of diagnosis, because that's not part of our job as recruiters. The role of marketing and recruitment is to help guide or navigate the right patients into the right study, but not making diagnosis.

Christine:

It's kind of funny, too, because, from a marketing perspective, you never want that many words in an advertisement. It was way too much as opposed to what like lawyers can do and they can just say "we'll get you all your money," you know?

It's a promise that can't even be a promise but we have to do something completely different. So, people, I think, miss out on treatments because we can't market the same way.

So, recruiting is hard. We know this. And then patients can sometimes call in and they don't actually qualify for the trial that was advertised. So, how do you handle that?

Heather:

Yeah, so, there's a really fine line when creating marketing material in terms of how specific to be, as you were just alluding to. You know.. how verbose is too much and or not enough?

For example, we might put out a newspaper ad looking for people with a diagnosis of hand eczema. But we would still get responses from a bunch of people who might think they have the condition but who don't actually have a diagnosis.

Some studies will allow that depending on the symptoms. But other studies are really strict, that a diagnosis must have already been in place. So, there's a lot of probing and asking the right questions from the recruitment team to kind of help filter through those responses that have come in from marketing.

The screening process for studies themselves and even the pre-screening process can be really rigorous. Often, though, we can advise a patient that while they are not a fit for Study X we might have Study Y that is coming up either in a different therapeutic area or in the same area but that is just slightly different that might be a better fit from them or might be a better fit for them. So, in that sense, the marketing is always useful for recruitment and future engagement.

Christine:

Yeah! Really great point, because any site is going to have more trials and usually get more trials of something similar to what you're doing so there can be crossover.

I know that your sites do a lot of community outreach. It's a huge, huge part of what you do so tell us some practical examples of best practices for community outreach.

Heather:

Sure. So Centricity Research is really lucky in that we have a whole community outreach team now and they are really collaborative and creative and they're doing amazing work in the recruitment and marketing sphere of things. We're really lucky that we get to benefit from that collaboration.

Just as an example, in Columbus, GA the oncology team is constantly out there doing cool stuff. They are hosting community breakfast sfor healthcare practitioners, they are out with support groups, educating patients, they are attending fundraising events, handing out material, and developing those patient relationships. They are doing all kinds of really cool stuff, and this is a great example of showcasing our support for local organizations, but also helping to build those community relationships that allow us to help and find new patients.

Here in Halifax, where I am in Canada. We do some pretty cool stuff, too. We have a free memory clinic that we offer to the community, and we've also just started a free memory clinic in Ontario as well at our two other sites where folks can come in and have a memory assessment done. It's a free service that we offer, but it also acts as a way for us to find prospective patients for our memory studies. So, it's kind of a win-win for everybody. We're alleviating the burden on the healthcare system a little bit by providing that service and also helping patients feel that they're taking control of their memory.

Also, in Nova Scotia, we have a great community engagement staff member who is out doing lunch-and-learns with family physicians, they are out setting up memory assessments that can be done out in the community, and they are out providing education to pharmacies and doctors' offices. The Community Outreach is such a huge part of our marketing and recruitment and we're all a big team in a big family working together, and it's pretty exciting stuff!

Christine:

It's so great to hear! Really shows how much of a team effort it takes to be part of clinical research. And I'm not always sure about what public perception is of clinical research to any given time, but there is such enormous teamwork, and it would be wonderful if more people understood the benefits of it or the potential benefits, even if not to themselves but to the future generations. It's really any medication we have has gone through this process-- so fantastic!

Well, I want to thank you Heather and not just for the interview, which I super appreciate your time. But really for the work you do, which is a tremendous asset.

Heather:

Thanks Christine! I appreciate the chance to chat about something that we're both clearly passionate about and yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to talk more about recruitment and marketing and the work that we do.

Christine:

Awesome! Thanks Heather. Bye!

Heather:

Thank you! Bye bye!



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