Why has content marketing for clinical research patient recruitment not worked? This entire question can be summarized in one sentence: no one has actually tried long enough. Don't worry, I will expand on this.
Recently I did a blog post where I discussed how clinical researchers are already taking advantage of mobile technologies (I know it's 2017 and this sounds like it should have been written in 2007) to assist in patient retention, patient questionnaires, and even recruitment. I then expanded on these thoughts to include ways that clinical researchers (sites, CRO's and Sponsors) could use mobile first platforms, like most social media these days, to proactively recruit patients by providing upfront value to potential study participants through content creation such as informational videos, blog posts, or podcasts covering specific medial conditions. The problem: no one has done it. While there are many blog posts, videos, and podcasts on medical conditions, few if any have a clinical research angle to help raise awareness of medical research from patients with these conditions. The best we can get are research ads (which consumers have mostly become blind to) being displayed alongside this content. The results would be magnitudes of order greater if clinical researchers would turn into mini media companies and create this content themselves.
I believe there are 3 main reasons as to why this is the case: short term thinking, fear, and an overall sense of complacency.
Short Term Thinking: Probably the biggest reason preventing medical research content creation from ever getting off the ground. It is quite ironic that in an industry that has long term goals at it's very foundation in terms of how long it actually takes a drug to go through the clinical trial testing and approval process (10 or more years), when it comes to patient recruitment, the thinking is so short term. The truth is no one at a typical clinical trial sponsor is tasked with the responsibility of raising clinical trial awareness to the patients being targeted for their own studies. Every study has a project manager and perhaps someone tasked with recruitment and enrollment strategies, but these individuals are only rewarded for producing short term results. These results are almost never achieved anyways, as over 90% of clinical trials experience delays due to slower than expected patient enrollment. Here we are spending literally billions of dollars on phase 1-4 clinical trials, and there is no long term customer (patient) acquisition plan in place to establish a brand identity (imagine that), gain patient trust through providing upfront value (in the form of medical content), and then raising awareness of what clinical research actually is through this very same content and platforms from which they derive. If drug sponsors allocated even 1% of their R&D budgets towards becoming mini media companies that produce content for the therapeutic areas of interest to them, I believe that in a matter of perhaps 1-2 years (not 1-2 months) the level of awareness they would likely be able to raise would directly lead to a significant increase in trial participation for their own trials (as well as perhaps other trials). Short term thinking, while necessary, does not a successful clinical trial program make. (Side note: I also believe that taking a long term research-naive physician education and training initiative will get many doctors interested in participating in research, and in the process, having them enroll their own patients in these clinical trials. My entire CRO is based on this thesis).
Fear: How will regulators view us if we are directly engaging with patients? When does content become marketing, and marketing become content? What if we end up helping our competitors? These are but some of the many questions that I believe do not have black and white simple answers. This is even more reason why I believe this strategy would work! Intent matters, and the everyday consumer understands the difference between an ad and a piece of content. They also understand when a company is genuinely interested in them or simply interested in selling to them. Regulators (FDA) have also released some guidance on social media best practices when it comes to direct to patient communication. Furthermore, there are many a digital marketing agency (mine) that would gladly create this content on behalf of a sponsor, allowing the sponsor to reap the benefits of a long term content creation strategy while shielding them from potential fines from regulators.
Complacency: Nothing stifles innovation like focusing on the current status quo. The current status quo is to recruit patients like it's 1985 (radio, newspaper, tv ads) or 2005 (google ads). While these methods do produce some short term results (although clearly not enough), I believe that investing in the long term content strategy play will actually save the sponsors money in the long run and allow them to obtain organic patient acquisition as opposed to paid patient acquisition for their clinical trials.
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