As consumers become increasingly divided in how they engage with both healthcare and social media, it is apparent clinical research businesses must quickly adapt their presence online to establish and advance new participant communities and connect with them in reliable ways.

In my experience, a common Sponsor response to digital recruitment incorporating social media generally reflects a misunderstood notion their function or material is too raw to use in the heavily regulated clinical trials space and therefore subsequently quite often promotes a level of skepticism and/or investor paranoia, albeit with good reason at times.

Most people, let alone study project managers, researchers and pharmaceutical/Biotech trial managers, think they know what social media is although in a trial accrual sense not many actually know what to do with it. There is global fixation on social media and the mass commercialisation of it by via shopping and advertising which influences progressive application of such computer-mediated tools in a traditional, clinical environment like human pharmaceutical or device trials.

What many Sponsors and sites don’t realise, but ironically would appreciate, is that social media’s such as Facebook are essentially a massive data collection tool, a social science search engine, providing a map of not only what our intended study population are thinking, but of how that population is actually thinking.

Using this insight and data we can identify and appropriately access specific populations, appeal to impulse and nurture initial and ongoing response. We can foster creation of a blue print based on successful, modern commercial business, but with a responsible, ethical and personal approach.

Analysis of data relative to a study sample, derived from the metrics generated from even one trial, can be of ultimate value to a research centre. By not only providing unique insight into the people who respond, but by understanding what study designs are most attractive to people, what interventions are considered too invasive to most people, what genders, ages and demographics are likely to respond, what funding arrangements are reasonable and what entry criteria are most restrictive. All of this indicates quality improvement for next time, refining practice at your site and for your company.

Some of the greatest insight into studies I have received is by building a large enough database of social media analytics, specific to clinical trials over time and using this evidence to justify recruitment endeavors. It turns the feasibility process on its head allowing a site to estimate, based on purely knowing their database, what the most likely outcome of a given study is, even before site selection, based on the intended population, intervention, indication, appropriateness of funding and entry criteria.

As physicians, nurses, and researchers we are clinical and precise in our healthcare, there is no reason why we should not be in our recruitment initiatives.

Dom Bailey