When it Comes to Patient Engagement in Clinical Trials, Think Motivation and Influence — Part 1

patient engagement clinical trials, patient engagement, Clinical Trials, Clinical Research
Patient participate in a clinical trial


A woman in her early 20s completed several rounds of chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer that is normally fatal within a few months of diagnosis. Like most people, she knew little to nothing about clinical trials – apart from common notions about patients as powerless subjects. Sitting at home with her parents, who also had little understanding of clinical research, she considered her limited options.

Patient participate in a clinical trial

The picture brightened when a friend introduced her to a qualified clinician at a prominent medical center with extensive oncology research opportunities. Just hearing about the prospect of clinical trials in her disease made a difference. Coming from a trusted source, the information about cancer research changed her outlook and gave her a renewed sense of purpose in a difficult time.

What motivates people to participate in a clinical trial? It is a question at the heart of our work at Worldwide Clinical Trials to understand and maximize patient engagement. And, it provided context for my recent presentation at the 2018 Summit for Clinical Operations Executives (SCOPE) in Orlando, FL. In part 1 and 2 of this blog series, I’ve summarized my remarks about the decisions, motivations, and social influences that play a part in patient engagement in clinical trials across indications.

Treating Physicians & Altruism Provide Powerful Motivation for Patient Participation in Clinical Research

The motivation to enroll as a patient in a clinical trial varies, of course, because the decision itself is so complicated. But we know people are more likely to engage if a treating physician recommends a clinical trial as a potential treatment option. The majority of patients (84%) state that they would consider participating in clinical trials if their physician recommended that they do so, according to a survey by the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP).1 The 2017 CISCRP Public and Patient Perceptions & Insights survey shows that primary care doctors or specialists, research center doctors or study staff, and advertisements typically are where clinical study participants first learn about their clinical trial. Clearly, physicians and trusted medical professionals are powerful advocates for clinical research, and Worldwide depends on our longstanding relationships with them to achieve engagement success.

In addition to physician influence, we know the clinical urgency of a patient’s condition serves as powerful motivation for exploring the option of clinical trial enrollment. If a person is very sick — if their treatment options are limited and life depends on finding a cure — then they are more willing to participate in a clinical trial when presented with the opportunity. In clinical research studies, no promises of a cure are made, and messaging includes carefully crafted language about the study, the study drug, safety, and privacy. People agree to participate in a trial not only because of the prospect of receiving the newest medical treatments available but also because they are in a unique position to contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge and benefit others. This altruistic motivation gets stronger if their disease is genetic because the clinical research may help their children or grandchildren.

In every clinical study communication, Worldwide taps into patients’ motivation toward altruism. When describing the benefits that clinical research can bring to medical science and humanity, our communications make a strong case for patient participation, whether the ultimate beneficiary will be a family member or a stranger.

We target patient populations based on their receptivity to certain messages. For instance, in Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials there are subtle differences in the recruitment outreach for people suffering from dementia versus those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or cognitively normal prospective participants.

A study of attitudes toward clinical trials among Alzheimer’s disease patients found that altruism was the most common reason for considering enrollment in MCI and cognitively normal participants; personal benefit was the most common reason for those with dementia2. Worldwide’s patient outreach strategies in Alzheimer’s and other diseases reflect unique differences in order to successfully motivate clinical study participants.

Patient Recruitment & Retention Expertise in Clinical Trials

We’ll continue the conversation in the second part of “When it Comes to Patient Engagement in Clinical Trials, Think Motivation and Influence”. Meanwhile, please connect with me to discuss patient recruitment and retention or learn more about our patient recruitment and retention expertise.


  1. Getz KA. Enabling healthcare providers as facilitators of patient engagement. Applied Clinical Trials. 2017;10(26)
  2. Nuño MM, et al. Attitudes toward clinical trials across the Alzheimer’s disease spectrum. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy. 2017;9:81.

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