Tips for Recruiting Cancer Patients

We’ve recruited 93 cancer patient projects this year across 25 different tumor types since teaming up with, the official social health site of the American Cancer society. Projects have been both qualitative and quantitative, with sample sizes ranging from 0 (some really difficult criteria!) to n=635.

We’ve learned quite a bit and we’re happy to share our learnings with you.

  1. You can recruit Stage IV cancer patients and not have pangs of guilt – In the past I used to cringe when we received a request to recruit advanced stage cancer patients. Don’t they have something better to do with their remaining time than to answer our questions? But we’ve found they very much enjoy taking part in studies. They are eager to have someone value their opinions.  “I like to do these studies because I know it will benefit patients in the future,” one patient told me, and it was echoed by others. And the honoraria helps many with their co-pays.
  2. The phone and the computer are cancer patients’ friends – Try to avoid central facility interviews. Sick patients are not eager to get in the car, drive or be driven downtown (which means their caregiver will also need to be available), locked into a specific date and time. Central facility response rates are half of what we see for telephone and web. Our patients are all on line – they signed up for – so they can be at a computer for a phone interview and see your stimulus. Or they can do an online survey. Or they can be on a webcam so you and your clients can see them. And they are certainly masters of the telephone. Our panel is nationwide – large numbers get thin very quickly when you are looking at a specific market.
  3. Patients might have to reschedule – Be flexible, these are sick patients. They may have every intention of doing the interview, until they wake up that day and feel horrible, or their chemo session has been moved. Remember that their health is a higher priority than their interview. If they cancel, they will reschedule.
  4. Recruiting can be quick – We reach out to our patients via email, and they respond quickly. We typically have 75% of our responses within 2-3 days of our appeal. More time doesn’t mean a greater sample size. Once we have the final screener and schedule we can get out the appeal in 1-2 days.
  5. Keep the screener relevant – These are rare patients, refrain from asking for the usual mix of age, income, education and ethnicity demographics! Often you won’t have the luxury of imposing past participation restrictions. And plan ahead – what criteria might your client be willing to loosen? It is difficult to recruit a patient you’ve already terminated.

We now have over 20,000 cancer patients and over 4,000 cancer caregivers, identified by tumor type, state of disease, stage of treatment, age, and location. All have opted in for market research. See our cancer and other rare disease patient panels and counts:


About the author: Wes Michael, President and Founder of Rare Patient Voice, has been involved in rare and orphan diseases since 1998, interviewing and surveying patients, caregivers, physicians, nurses and advocacy leaders. Wes has more than 30 years experience in marketing research, and more than 15 years in healthcare marketing research.

{ 2 comments… add one }
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