Keep Them Interested: Developing A Successful Patient Retention Program

Finding patients to participate in clinical research studies is hard, but sometimes convincing them to stay in the study is even more challenging. Patient retention for clinical research is critical to the drug development process. Participants are free to drop out at any point in the study and, consequently, many do.

Depending upon the source, industry experts estimate that 30-52% of all study participants drop out prior to completion. This requires sponsors to recruit more patients into their clinical trials to compensate for the ones who drop out, potentially adding several months to timelines and millions of dollars in operational expenses and opportunity costs.

Bottom line: A well-executed and strategic retention program is paramount. Below are tips to maximize the effectiveness of your retention program. These tips are applicable not only to clinical trials, but also any retention/loyalty program between patients and medical professionals.

Make it Easy for Medical Staff



In order to be successful, the medical staff must comply with the retention program. Study coordinators -- the staff at the physician's office who run the clinical trials -- are very busy and office space is a precious commodity. They don't want the burden of remembering to provide patients with a particular retention item that corresponds to a particular visit. If your program requires manual management, expect spotty compliance.

At Blue Chip Healthcare Marketing, we have found that automated systems largely take the responsibility off of coordinators. We require them to input minimal data into a compliant system confirming that an action (warranting a retention item) has occurred. A separate facility is responsible for the fulfillment of the retention item to the patient. By taking the burden off the coordinator to implement the retention program, compliance has been close to 100%.

Make it Useful

There is a massive graveyard somewhere filled with unused tote bags, planners, mouse pads and other run-of-the-mill retention items that no one wanted or were never distributed. Spend time understanding the study participants and what interests them. Ask them what they would want (keeping in mind the value must be nominal and not considered coercive in any way) in order to identify items they will appreciate and use. Considering the financial implications of a retention program, a little bit of research goes a long way.

For a program executed last year, we fielded a quick market research study that asked women, "When you are able to make time for yourself, what do you like to do?" Using the feedback, we developed a spa day kit, a beauty day kit and a dinner kit. These items were automatically sent out to patients when they met certain study benchmarks. These kits included items of nominal monetary value, but were useful in encouraging patients to take time for themselves. The kits resonated well with study participants and there was an immediate 22% spike in monthly retention after the first kit was sent out.

Make it Feel Good

Participating in a medical research study is a big deal. Obviously, it's critical to drug developers, but it's even more important to those who will one day benefit from the FDA-approved medication. Reminding study participants about the spirit of volunteerism and how others may one day benefit is an extremely powerful and effective communication strategy.

For a recent study, 10 well-known female artists were commissioned to develop original artwork incorporating aspirational imagery and brand elements associated with the study. The artwork was then printed on letter-sized card stock, numbered, and a different card was sent to patients as they reached study milestones.

The art card was also accompanied by a customized, branded letter to the patients, thanking them for their dedication and commitment and giving them a brief biography of the artist. Not only did the program increase retention rates significantly, but we received a tremendous amount of feedback from study coordinators that their patients expressed a great deal of pride for participating.


A strategic and well-executed patient retention program can save drug developers millions. Developing retention programs deserves as much research and rigor as the recruitment plan itself. The reality is that there will always be patients who drop out of research studies, but by making programs easier to execute, providing patients with items that are more appreciated and useful, and reminding participants about the big picture, drug developers may find themselves one step closer to the finish line.

1 comment about "Keep Them Interested: Developing A Successful Patient Retention Program ".
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  1. Peg North from Ethnic Technologies, August 24, 2011 at 10:20 a.m.


    Thanks for an excellent article and overview. Patient communication is key in studies and also in script adherence.

    Growth in the U.S. is now multicultural. Understanding patients using a multicultural "lens" increases patient retention.

    There are tools that facilitate this multicultural understanding. Win - win all around.

    Peg North

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