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Recruiting hard-to-reach respondents: six steps to success

The quality of your participants is paramount to the success of your study. Good participants can be the difference between insightful, in-depth results that fulfil your objectives and fieldwork that just falls a bit flat. Let’s face it – it’s tricky to find terrific respondents these days, even when you’re working with the most generic of target audiences. But add low incidence rate diseases and HCPs who specialise in rare therapy areas into the mix and you’ve got even more work to do. Don’t worry though – it can be done! Here’s our six-step guide on how to recruit hard-to-reach participants so your medical fieldwork recruitment goes smoothly, no matter how strict your criteria.

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1. First things first – feasibility!

Before you even think about recruiting respondents for your healthcare market research, it’s worth considering carrying out a feasibility test to get a true idea of how feasible your study is. Why? Well, for starters, a thorough feasibility assessment will provide the groundwork on which to build your market research and allow you to weigh up factors such as location versus population versus screening criteria. It essentially allows you to determine how achievable your project actually is, so it’s a really important step that shouldn’t be missed – especially when it comes to hard-to-reach participants in medical market research.

medical fieldwork recruitment

We’d recommend starting things off with some desk-based research. The NHS Digital Catalogue is great for up-to-date data on NHS staff numbers to help you drill down into who is involved in treating different conditions, whereas NICE can help you get an idea of drug usage rates. Additionally, MIMs is good for information regarding when medications were approved, as well as usage guidance and whether there are any geographical restrictions – all of which can help you make informed decisions about the feasibility of your research. Check out our handy list of resources here.

It’s not just about desk-based research, though – you should also reach out to the experts as well where possible. HCPs and KOLs can provide valuable information on things such as the number of people treating a condition, or how widely prescribed drugs are in different regions. And make sure you look back at your own experience too: any experience in the therapy area, as well as any other similar projects you might have conducted, will give you a nudge in the right direction.

medical fieldwork recruitment

2. Search in the right places

Once your feasibility test is complete, it’s time to get started with your medical fieldwork recruitment. If you want to conduct patient-focused market research with people suffering from rare diseases, then support groups are a great place to begin your search. A support group is where patients, carers and family come together for advice and support about living with various conditions – and because the suggestion of research is coming from a source they trust, they will be much more likely to take part. Just make sure you check with the sponsoring pharma company to see if they have any conflicts with certain support groups, or if there are any restrictions in place when it comes to advertising the research.

Referrals are another great way to reach high-quality, hard-to-reach patients, whilst HCP finders can also help you to source valid patients with certain conditions. They have the benefit of knowing patients’ medical histories, including any medication they take as well as when they started taking them, making finders a great help when it comes to hard-to-reach participants with specific criteria. Not only that but because the patients will know and trust their HCPs, they will be more open to taking part in the research too.

medical fieldwork recruitment

3. Allow enough time for recruitment

Successful medical fieldwork recruitment can take between four to six weeks, so it’s really important that you allow enough time to recruit the people you need – especially if you are dealing with low-incidence rates and hard-to-reach participants which can sometimes take even longer. When it comes to low-incidence projects, it’s much better to take your time to make sure you recruit respondents who fit your exact criteria rather than rush through things just to fill spaces without making sure they have the must-have criteria. In addition, when it comes to patient-centric research, whatever your recruitment method, you must always wait for the patient to decide whether or not they want to get involved, so it’s imperative you give them enough time to make an informed decision.

You’ll also need to factor in individual timings for each of your chosen recruitment methods. For example, if you are recruiting via a support group or charity, they might have certain restrictions in place or could need approval from higher levels. Not only that, but some local support groups only meet once a month, so it’s important to factor the frequency of the groups into your timescales too. If you are using HCP finders to source participants, you will definitely need to allow them a good amount of time to source patients – possibly more depending on how strict your criteria. Of course, on the other side of the coin, if you are recruiting HCPs you also need to allow for busy schedules and give them plenty of notice so they can fit research in around shift patterns and on-call duties.

medical fieldwork recruitment

4. Make sure you offer a suitable incentive

It’s standard market research best practice to offer an incentive to participants to thank them for giving up their time and taking part in research. The amount will depend on a lot of things, from the complexity and duration of the study to the company commissioning the research and the subject area being researched. Further, when it comes to healthcare market research – especially respondents who might be suffering from rare diseases that are sensitive to discuss – then your incentive will need to make it worth their while.

Your incentive will also need to reflect just how difficult it is to recruit these types of participants too. Those suffering from a rare condition such as haemophilia will need a higher incentive than those suffering from something relatively common such as an allergy, for example. The same can also be said for engaging with specialist HCPs who work in rare therapy areas: because their time is so precious, they will need to be well rewarded for giving up their time.  And remember – because you are dealing with a smaller audience, you will be able to justify the cost of higher incentives.

Potential incentive ideas include a charitable donation to a relative charity, cash, cheques, shopping vouchers and gift cards. But often, for those suffering from rare illness and those treating it, the chance to get their voice heard and potentially help others suffering from the same condition is incentive enough. Whatever incentive you decide on, just make sure that it adheres to the BHBIA guidelines and is of fair market value.

medical fieldwork recruitment

5. Make it easy for them to take part

In all market research, your participants should always come first. And when it comes to hard-to-reach respondents in healthcare market research – yep, you guessed it – your participants’ needs become even more important because there are so many additional things to take into account. For example, if your market research is location-based, where will it be? Will patients have to travel far? Is it close to a hospital or treatment centre so specialist HCPs with busy schedules can pop out to take part? Some patients might have a condition that makes it difficult to travel, making location-based research impossible. If they can travel, consider providing transport or at the very least, always supply clear directions on how to get to the facility.

If you do decide on a location-based methodology, you should also make sure that you consider all their needs. Do they suffer from mobility issues? Is there wheelchair access? What about help for those with visual impairments? Can they bring a carer? What about dietary requirements? By considering everything beforehand and making it as easy as possible for participants to take part, you will make your research more appealing, especially when dealing with patients whose condition is limiting and makes travel complicated. Basically, the easier things are for them, the more likely they will want to take part – it’s that simple!

medical fieldwork recruitment

6. Always over recruit!

From hectic work schedules to low -incidence rate diseases, conducting healthcare market research with hard-to-reach respondents can give even the most experienced researcher a headache. Your participants are only human, and whether patients become too unwell to attend or HCPs get stuck in a clinic, it’s not unusual to be faced with dropouts on the day. That’s why we’d always recommend over-recruiting. After all, if it’s hard to reach respondents in the first place, it’s going to be even harder to reach them at the last minute to replace no-shows. By over recruiting, you can make sure you are prepared for every eventuality – find out more here.

Bonus tip – keep a close eye on your recruitment!

During the medical fieldwork recruitment process, make sure you keep a close eye on how things are going. By scheduling regular updates with your recruiter, you can carefully track outputs such as how many calls have been made and what percentage of quotas are being filled so there are no nasty surprises further down the line. We recommend weekly updates – at least! – so you can keep on top of how recruitment is going and any problems can be quickly identified and ironed out.

When it comes to recruiting hard-to-reach respondents, it’s more important than ever to stick to a clear plan. Want to find out more about how to attract the best possible respondents for your healthcare market research? Download our recruitment roadmap for expert advice every step of the way.