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Top 10 tips for successful study recruitment

The world of research delivery is a mystery to most clinicians. In day-to-day clinical practice when we think about research we imagine bespectacled academics in lofty universities thinking up fantastic new interventions. Or if we get slightly less carried away with our daydreams perhaps we think about ideas of how we could do research as part of a masters or to make our practice better.

In reality health and social care research is going on all around us all the time. Research delivery is what we call the set up and recruitment of patients into research projects within NHS settings. These research projects have been designed by teams of academics, clinicians and patients and have been funded by organisations like the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research…or the research arm of the NHS), or charities like Diabetes UK or the Alzheimer’s Society, and are often recruiting patients in a number of different NHS trusts.

At the Academy of Research and Improvement, we co-ordinate the delivery of this kind of research within Solent NHS Trust services and its community partners…and 2017/2018 has been a very good year for recruitment.

So in the practice of blowing our own trumpet...we have recruited more patients than ever into more studies across many of the Trusts different services! In light of this we thought we would reflect on what has gone well this year and share our top 10 tips to successfully recruit patients into NHS research (other than the obvious of making sure it is a study that patients will actually be interested in taking part in!). Here is our wisdom, shared in the most modest way of course:

  1. Create a positive experience Building on the obvious point above, a positive patient experience is key. If the patient has to fill out 5 forms and travel 50 miles to a lab 3 times a week, only the very keen will apply. Make sure the process is simple, easy and we do as much of it as possible for them. Communicate well and say thank you, and they will tell their friends all about the amazing research they are involved in.

  2. Venture outside your four walls Think creatively about where to find the people who might like to take part. Don’t just stick to the GP surgery or cardiac ward, think about what other services, groups or organisations they may use and take your research to them.

  3. Build partnerships Consider building partnerships with local organisations which may be able to promote the research for you. Local schools, community groups and care homes have a real appetite for this kind of thing.

  4. Engage the clinicians If you are recruiting through a clinical service really engage the clinical team, offer training, send weekly updates, provide prizes for recruitment, feedback the results and you will build strong and lasting relationships as well as promoting research as part of usual care.

  5. Suggest changes Don’t be afraid to suggest changes to the protocol to get it to fit in with clinical practice. This could be the difference between no recruitment and loads of interest. Changes can be done via an amendment to the HRA (Health Research Authority) and chances are you won’t be the one who has to do it (sorry trial managers out there!).

  6. Get social Think about the power of social media to promote the study. Everyone loves Facebook or Twitter, and most NHS organisations are all over them. Studies can be shared far and wide. Facebook adverts are also a useful way to target people more specifically, for example, by age, location or interests.

  7. Piggyback existing channels There may also be local options for boosting recruitment. At Solent we have developed a scheme called ‘Count Me In’ which commits us to sharing research opportunities with our patients. We use the Trust’s electronic health record to find people who may be interested and send them the information, increasing the reach of the study.

  8. Track and track again Once you are recruiting I can’t emphasise enough the usefulness of tracking recruitment weekly. When you know how many patients you need to recruit each week you can easily keep on top of where you are and stop things from slipping. You can then get your plan B ready early if there are problems.

  9. Play the long game Sometimes successful recruitment comes from playing the long game. Get involved with smaller projects, feasibility work, and clinical academic projects. They may not be big recruiters this year, but a few years down the line you’ll be glad you did, and so will your patients.

  10. Keep in touch Finally, my last pearl of wisdom is an oldie but a goodie: communication and encouragement. Whoever you are and whoever you are working with, keep in touch. Be a regular presence in their inbox with updates and encouraging words and always remember to say thank you.

Happy recruiting to one and all!


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