Social Media Recruiting for Trials Falls Short

A survey of physicians found recruiting for trials through social media can be useful, but not for cancer therapeutic trials.

Social media can help physicians recruit for clinical trials, according to the findings of a study1 published in JAMA Network Open. But the study found many barriers remain for effective trial recruitment

“While social media is a promising method of communicating clinical trial information to large and diverse populations, the idea of using social media for recruitment purposes poses challenges owing to physician concerns about increased administrative burden and the risk of misinformation,” wrote Mina S. Sedrak, MD, MS, of City of Hope Duarte, Calif., and colleagues. 

Researchers interviewed 44 physicians at the main academic site and 6 affiliated community sites of City of Hope in-person or by telephone for the qualitative study. All interviews were conducted between March and June 2018. An interview guide was used to explore perceptions of social media use for accrual of cancer therapeutic trials. Of the participants, 36% were women and the majority (68%) had more than 10 years of practice experience. Twenty-four of the participants were academic-based and 20 were community-based.

Data from the study was found using qualitative content analysis. Researchers found less than 5% of patients of the physicians interviewed were enrolled in clinical trials. Three themes were identified as potential advantages of social media use for trial recruitment. First, social media provides increased visibility and awareness. Second, social media improves communication, and third, social media provides a method of patient engagement. Physicians recognized that social media allowed them “to reach large populations and easily spread information about available trials”.

“Our findings revealed that physicians are not currently comfortable with or prepared to effectively use social media for cancer clinical trial recruitment,” the researchers wrote. “Although there are some aspects of these new modes of communication that physicians are enthusiastic about (ie, increased visibility and awareness), several important concerns remain.”

Among those concerns, the physicians described several disadvantages of social media, including increased administrative burden, risk of misinformation, a lack of guidance on how best to engage, and limited outreach to all available participants. 

The physicians were asked for some potential strategies for more effective use of social media for trial recruitment. Among common themes discussed were increased institutional support, including resources to manage recruitment efforts on social media. Participants also suggested ways to learn the benefit of social media and training in how to effectively use social media platforms. 


“Additional research is needed to further examine and better understand the risks and benefits of using social media for clinical trial recruitment, better characterize physicians’ concerns among larger cohorts, and identify methods to optimize social media use in clinical trials,” the researcher wrote. “Importantly, the use of social media for clinical recruitment has potential implications in promoting the engagement of otherwise underrepresented groups.”


Sedrak, M., Sun, V., Liu, J., George, K., Wong, A., Dale, W. and Dizon, D. (2019). Physician Perceptions of the Use of Social Media for Recruitment of Patients in Cancer Clinical Trials. [online] JAMA Network Open. Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2019].