Jim Gearhart

by Jim Gearhart

Clinical Trial Recruitment Using Social Media is Growing

Institution Bulletin vol 5, issue 1

Finding volunteers can be the hardest—and slowest—part of starting a clinical trial. Investigators and sponsors strive to find the right people quickly for their trials, and recruitment programs often play critical roles in dispersing information. As our reading and viewing habits change, so too have advertising habits. Anyone starting a study needs to know where and how they might reach people.

In 2013, spending on online advertising passed television ads for the first time, and spending on print advertising reached 50-year lows. By contrast, social media advertising is taking on a larger portion of all online advertising. The numbers demonstrate the potential appeal of social media: Facebook has over 1.3 billion users; Twitter claims over 230 million, and LinkedIn has 300 million. Analysts present a range of numbers on the value of social media advertising. One analysis tagged the value of a Facebook Like at $174.17. Another report posited a range of values for getting that virtual thumb’s up from $214 each time down to $0, depending on the type of business. Another article estimated that a successful tweet on Twitter can earn up to $25.

Even with those potentials in mind, strategies that add to a company’s bottom line do not necessarily translate into successful recruiting programs for new study participants. How common is it to use social media advertising in clinical trials? So far, the impact seems relatively small, but growing. Last year, the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development reported that eleven percent of clinical trials involved some type of social media advertising. That’s still a small portion of the studies that are out there, but it’s a significant rise from basically nothing a few years before that. On the IRB side, it was not that long ago when submissions of recruitment materials proposed primarily print and radio ads. But now, submissions for online advertising have picked up considerably; the social media portion of that has been increasing, too. The increased interest, based on that clear potential, is driving more researchers to explore the potential of recruiting using social media.

But regulations often lag behind technology’s capabilities. The FDA has issued draft instructions on using social media for approved medical products, and it has issued extensive guidance about recruiting study volunteers in general. But it has not yet assembled a policy specific to social media and recruiting for clinical trials. One notable element of social media, of course, is its interactive nature. Those of us from an era of magazines and newspapers are accustomed to static ads that allow for little feedback. Online ads, through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, present a potential for dynamic, ongoing communication. That can be a useful thing, a positive force, but it also presents a new set of variables for an ethics board to consider. In response to many questions, Quorum has set its policies based on the FDA (and other regulatory) guidance that is out there.

An article in our quarterly Institution Bulletin reviews the regulatory landscape around clinical trial recruitment using social media. It discusses preparing a recruitment program through social media, examines what the FDA has said generally, and shares Quorum Review’s expectations for any social media recruitment program. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone who has wondered about using social media to attract study participants.

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