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Could Texting Save Clinical Trial Recruitment?

Getting a drug on the market is no easy feat; an enormous amount of research, development, and trials are only quantitative markers of the process a new medication must undergo before ganing the clear for distribution by healthcare professionals. One would hope that, at the least, a research team that has advanced a drug to clinical trials wouldn't have to fret over putting together the trial, but a common difficulty in gathering participants for clinical trials has made this far from the reality for many medical researchers. However, texting may offer a solution.

At first glance, it may not make much sense that rounding up participants for research trials would present such an obstacle. However, many who consider participating in trials of drugs not yet on the market hesitate due to unvoiced concerns, and the steps leading up to the trial can be tedious, resulting in a surprisingly high proportion of dropouts among clinical trial participants of about two thirds.

The process of successfully locating and recruiting from a pool of oft-hesitating potential participants is also an expensive one. And even when researchers have garnered enough participants, managing all their information represents a tedious, time-consuming hurdle. In short, recruiting subjects is a far greater difficulty and expense than it should be for medical researchers.

Texting might hold the solution to these woes. By allowing potential participants to demonstrate interest via text message, trials might be more likely to garner greater interest, as many are more inclined to send a quick text message than to follow through with making a phone call or writing out an email. After all, most people worldwide now own or have access to mobile phones. Advertisements encouraging people to text a specified keyword to a given number in order to demonstrate interest could be placed in strategic or oft-visited locations, like hospital waiting rooms or on public transportation, presenting a lower-effort mode of recruitment.

Using this sort of system also offers the benefit of making the recruitment process more automated. If potential participants express their interest in the trial via a text message, their text can initiate the process of verifying the patient's eligibility; patients can automatically begin to receive text messages asking simple, multiple choice questions about the requirements for a given trial's participants to ensure that they are eligible. By potentially automating this processing, texting spares researchers labor hours they might spend screening prospective participants.

Using text messaging in this way also promises ease later in the recruitment process, when reaching out to patients individually becomes too time-consuming. With texting, researchers can structure and automate outreach by dividing the pool of patients by their data and scheduling different text messages to different pools. In this way, researchers can better target texts to patients based on information like their availability. This approach would speed up outreach throughout the recruitment process and reduce the amount of human labor hours needed, representing a reduction in time and money spent.

Texting could also help assuage the doubts of patients, reducing dropout rates. Many patients drop out of a study before it even begins because of doubts or fears, and reaching out to every patient and addressing each one's concerns individually demands more time than researchers can spare. In order to retain volunteers and time, researchers could prepare text messages addressing common worries or offering more information about the trial that could be automatically sent to patients who express relevant concerns. Additionally, texting is a more immediate, comfortable medium for most than calling or emailing, which may cause more people to voice their concerns to the research team than to quietly drop out.

While there is limited research on the efficacy of texting as a recruitment device, the potential it holds to expedite and enhance recruitment for clinical trials is promising and exciting for medical research.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 


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