How to Engage Healthcare Providers and Encourage More Clinical Trial Referrals

April Schultz
February 2nd, 2017

For many patients, healthcare providers are the gateway to clinical trial information, and physicians and nurses can be helpful parties for recruiting participants to enrolling studies. However, many research organizations aren’t adequately engaging physicians and nurses to encourage patient referrals. According to a recent analysis conducted by Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, many providers are more than willing to refer their patients to relevant clinical trials, but are hindered by a lack of information and poor communication from sponsors, CROs and sites.¹

Building a trusting and positive relationship with physicians and nurses will make it more likely they will recommend your trials to their patients without hesitation. Here are a few ways to improve your relationships with providers and make patient referrals easier and more frequent:

Schedule in-person meetings

In-person meetings with physicians and their staff set a personable tone for your relationship with them and allow open discussion about clinical research. Take the time to schedule a meeting with physicians, and include staff members who regularly interact with patients. Creating a good impression upfront can improve the view of your practice and build a positive relationship with providers early on.

It’s essential that providers have a realistic understanding of the clinical trial process, because their understanding can influence a patient’s decision to participate. During these meetings, provide an overview of the clinical trial process and address any gaps in understanding. Maintain your relationship with the provider by initiating conversations at conferences, offering to give interactive talks, or conducting formal or informal trainings.³

Communicate clinical trial information

According to the Tufts analysis, a common barrier to physician referrals is a lack of sufficient information about a trial.¹ Some providers feel unprepared to talk with patients about clinical trial protocols because the complexities have not been adequately communicated.

Make the patient referral process as easy as possible by giving providers ample resources to help them understand your trial. As mentioned above, training exercises and in-person discussions are often effective means of communicating trial details. Additional resources include links to online guides, digestible protocol summaries, and a history of the investigational therapy. It’s also helpful to designate a staff member to actively answer questions from providers. This will keep communication open and continuous, making the providers feel more confident in their understanding of the trial and more likely to refer patients.

Help explain clinical trials to patients

Physicians and nurses work with a variety of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. Potentially eligible patients could have a limited understanding of the clinical trial process, requiring providers to explain it to the best of their ability. Often, this includes combatting misconceptions about clinical research.

Give physicians and nurses materials, such as easy-to-understand handouts, to help them explain the process to those patients unfamiliar with clinical trials. This can reduce hesitation from both the provider and patient, and boost the potential for more successful referrals. When creating these materials, keep in mind the demographics and literacy of your target patient population. Your message and media for clinical research materials should change based on the age and reading level of your patient population.

Follow-up after a patient referral

According to Tufts, roughly 30% of physicians and 45% of nurses reported never receiving initial or follow-up contact from site staff after a patient referral.¹ An even higher percentage reported never receiving their patients’ clinical trial results. Providers want, and sometimes need, to know their patient’s status on an investigational therapy, and are inconvenienced or feel slighted when they don’t receive contact from research staff. Proactively updating providers about their patients and the clinical trial’s progress is not only courteous, but can increase the likelihood of future referrals.

Keep lines of communication open with providers throughout the lifecycle of your clinical trial. Update them on the trial’s progress and let them know when a patient they referred is enrolled.³ Show your appreciation by sending a note thanking them for their assistance. These are simple ways to build trust with physicians and nurses.



2 thoughts on “How to Engage Healthcare Providers and Encourage More Clinical Trial Referrals

  1. Clinical trials are one of the final stages of a long and careful research process. The process often begins in a laboratory. Thank you for this blog it is very helpful for many healthcare providers.

  2. We utilize all four of these tactics to recruit for research studies within our faith-based community hospital system. We have 8 acute care and 2 specialty hospitals, approximately 45 employed physician groups and a number of affiliated physicians.

    One issue I have consistently seen throughout my career is that research must take the patient identification and pre-screening burden off of medical provider’s plates because they are simply too busy. One physician recently remarked to me that he is interested in the potential benefits of clinical trial participation for his patients, but “it has to be easy” to refer. For selected therapeutic areas, we have set up a process (with IRB approval, of course), for research staff to assist with pre-screening and to notify providers when they have a potentially eligible patient coming in for a clinic visit.

    Then the provider can determine whether study participation may be appropriate for their patient, and introduce the study to them. If the patient gives permission, the research team follows up from there. While this is time-intensive, it has been the best way to generate consistent referrals. Given the resource intensity, we focus only on a few referring physicians that we have identified as “research champions” and focus on cultivating those referrals rather than casting a very wide net.

    Great article and topic!

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