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Southampton Health Technology Assessments CentreNews

New online course on using digital tools to improve recruitment and retention in clinical trials

Published: 27 January 2022
Smart phone
Digital tools can help increase the recruitment and retention of participants in clinical trials

A rapid review of digital tools in clinical trials, produced by SHTAC, is the basis of an innovative new Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) aimed at researchers, trial teams, and anyone with an interest in clinical research.

The rapid review, currently being written up for publication, aimed to find out which digital tools are effective at improving recruitment and/or retention in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and to appraise the strengths and limitations of the evidence supporting these tools. A total of 58 relevant studies assessing the effectiveness of digital tools were included in the review, sampled from a larger set of 105 studies included in our previously published systematic map. A range of digital tools were identified, including websites, social media, email and text messaging, automated computer screening, and smartphone Apps. Much of the available evidence focuses on websites and automated screening tools, though it is uncertain how effective these are compared to traditional, non-digital, methods.

The MOOC was developed in parallel by the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU) in collaboration with SHTAC, NIHR NETSCC, Bristol Trials Centre and FutureLearn. The MOOC gives an overview of how digital tools such as social media, websites, and other technologies can be effective ways for trialists to recruit and retain the participants they need. Evidence from the rapid review is used to justify use of tools, considering their advantages and possible limitations.

More than 600 people subscribed to the MOOC during its first facilitated run in Autumn 2021. The second run starts on 31st January 2022. Join in and listen out for members of the SHTAC review team narrating some of the video presentations! You can sign up here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/digital-clinical-trials

This project was funded by the NIHR Clinical Trials Unit Support Funding scheme.

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