Online Patient Recruitment in Clinical Trials: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review


Background: Recruitment for clinical trials continues to be a challenge, as patient recruitment is the single biggest cause of trial delays. Around 80% of trials fail to meet the initial enrollment target and timeline, and these delays can result in lost revenue of as much as US $8 million per day for drug developing companies.

Objective: This study aimed to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effectiveness of online recruitment of participants for clinical trials compared with traditional in-clinic/offline recruitment methods.

Methods: Data on recruitment rates (the average number of patients enrolled in the study per month and per day of active recruitment) and conversion rates (the percentage of participants screened who proceed to enroll into the clinical trial), as well as study characteristics and patient demographics were collected from the included studies. Differences in online and offline recruitment rates and conversion rates were examined using random effects models. Further, a nonparametric paired Wilcoxon test was used for additional analysis on the cost-effectiveness of online patient recruitment. All data analyses were conducted in R language, and P

Results: In total, 3861 articles were screened for inclusion. Of these, 61 studies were included in the review, and 23 of these were further included in the meta-analysis. We found online recruitment to be significantly more effective with respect to the recruitment rate for active days of recruitment, where 100% (7/7) of the studies included had a better online recruitment rate compared with offline recruitment (incidence rate ratio [IRR] 4.17, P=.04). When examining the entire recruitment period in months we found that 52% (12/23) of the studies had a better online recruitment rate compared with the offline recruitment rate (IRR 1.11, P=.71). For cost-effectiveness, we found that online recruitment had a significantly lower cost per enrollee compared with offline recruitment (US $72 vs US $199, P=.04). Finally, we found that 69% (9/13) of studies had significantly better offline conversion rates compared with online conversion rates (risk ratio 0.8, P=.02).

Conclusions: Targeting potential participants using online remedies is an effective approach for patient recruitment for clinical research. Online recruitment was both superior in regard to time efficiency and cost-effectiveness compared with offline recruitment. In contrast, offline recruitment outperformed online recruitment with respect to conversion rate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number22179
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number11
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • online clinical trial, web-based clinical trial, hybrid clinical trial, online recruitment, remote recruitment, recruitment, clinical trial, conversion rate, RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED-TRIAL, WEB-BASED ACCEPTANCE, COMMITMENT THERAPY, MENTAL-HEALTH, INTERNET, FACEBOOK, INTERVENTION, SMOKING, YOUNG, SEX

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