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Southampton Health Technology Assessments CentreNews

SHTAC begins work on a rapid review of the effectiveness of digital tools for recruitment and retention of participants in clinical trials

Published: 24 January 2020
Research graphic
Digital tools to identify, recruit and retain participants in trials are increasingly being used

Recruiting and retaining participants in randomised controlled trials is challenging, with poor rates of recruitment commonly reported. This can have negative consequences, for example delaying the setting up and completing of trials, meaning that patients, health professionals and decision makers have to wait longer to find out if new health treatments are effective.

To address these problems clinical trials units (CTUs) and research funding agencies are increasingly using digital tools to identify, recruit and retain participants in trials. SHTAC previously conducted a systematic map to characterise the available digital tools. A total of 105 studies were included and the findings showed a diverse range of tools for recruitment and retention has been evaluated. Commonly studied digital tools included social media, internet sites and email for recruitment; and email and text messaging for retention.  However, the effectiveness and efficiency of this evidence base has not been assessed.

SHTAC’s new project will review studies from the map which compare the effectiveness of digital tools in improving recruitment and/or retention in trials. The review will produce a list of digital tools that, based on our assessment of the available evidence, appear most likely to be effective in practice, together with an overview of the strengths and limitations of the evidence supporting these tools. We will also use the results of the rapid review to develop a checklist of the features of comparative evaluative studies of digital tools to guide stakeholders on how to identify reliable and relevant digital tools

The review is one of two components of research project funded by the NIHR Clinical Trials Unit Support Funding scheme to support efficient / innovative delivery of NIHR research. The findings of the review will inform the second component of the research, the development of a tailored training package for stakeholders on how to select digital tools that are likely to be effective for their clinical trials.

The Principal Investigator of the research is Professor Gareth Griffiths Director of the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU), and the project is a collaboration between the SCTU, SHTAC, Bristol Trials Centre, Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) Birmingham, and Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit.

The project is due to complete by the end of 2020, and findings from the research will be published in peer reviewed journals, conferences, and seminars. A protocol describing the scope and methods of the rapid review will be available shortly from the SHTAC website.

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