For clinical research sites across the country, patient recruitment remains a massive challenge. Many clinical research coordinators (CRCs) and site managers still rely on traditional outbound marketing methods to advertise their enrolling clinical trials, and these strategies just haven’t proven to be very effective.

Luckily, more and more CRCs are starting to see the benefit of investing in inbound marketing. Compared to outdated outbound marketing techniques, inbound marketing can draw more volunteers to their research studies. Our agency has been working with clinical research sites in Florida and we’ve steadily been able to generate thousands of quality leads through inbound marketing tactics in 2016.

Clinical research coordinator uses email marketing for patient recruitment

Despite the promising shift toward more digital marketing, we’ve been surprised to see that very few patient recruitment teams have tried implementing a regular email marketing campaign.

CenterWatch, a nationwide clinical trial listing site, uses email notifications to let patients know about new clinical trials that are within their area. Clinical Trials GPS is another nationwide site that’s taken these email marketing tips to heart since their relaunch.

However, there are many clinical research sites that haven’t taken advantage of email marketing, despite having a healthy patient database that they could be engaging.

Just imagine how beneficial it would be if you could notify every diabetic in your database about an upcoming diabetes clinical study with just a few clicks. Not only are you saving yourself valuable time, but you’re getting the word out to a targeted audience for a lot less money than it takes to run print ads or even a well-targeted promotion on Facebook.

Sounds pretty compelling right? It should! These email marketing tips can provide massive benefits to clinical research sites:

1) Getting Permission Is Extremely Important

You know those public safety messages that provide extremely obvious warnings or advice? “Make sure you are buckled up and have your license before driving.” It seems pretty obvious and yet it’s worth mentioning to a brand new driver.

We feel the same way when we say: “You need to make sure you have gotten permission before you start any new email campaign.”

Collecting emails might not be a priority, but building a healthy list can be extremely valuable. Using a local inbound marketing strategy and optimized web forms that require a valid email, you can build up a list of patients who live near your clinic and have consented to receive emails from you.

Recipients are much less likely to report emails as spam if they’ve willingly provided their email. You should also provide information in the confirmation email or on your landing pages. This lets subscribers know your recruitment team will be sending out emails about upcoming studies.

2) Set Expectations for Your Email List

We’re going to assume you have a website for your clinical research site and have include online forms to capture leads. If you’re driving qualified traffic to your website, a great online form will convert more leads for your recruitment team. Your website should be working as a major tool in your patient recruitment efforts.

Invest in a Good Email Service Provider

It’s really important to make sure people receive a confirmation email after signing up. Luckily, the best email service providers (ESPs) provide this functionality. They’re worth the investment to ensure your emails reach the intended inboxes.

If you are using WordPress for your clinical research website, you can send emails without using an ESP. However, we recommend using one as their email delivery infrastructures are much more refined and reliable.

For one of our clients, we’ve implemented a unique form that asks for the visitor’s name, email address and zip code. Every new lead gets a confirmation email that provides some information about the types of messages they can expect to receive from the company. We’ve also integrated our patient user list with Mailchimp and use their service to send more engaging emails out to our list.

Snapshot of the online form on Clinical Trials GPS

Snapshot of a clean but effective online form from Clinical Trials GPS.


We encourage you to add some personal flair to your confirmation email. This way, it becomes more of a welcome message to new subscribers. This customized email can include an engaging opening message and additional contact information for your clinical research site, in addition to details on the types of messages that they can expect to receive. This is the first step in building a great relationship with your patient database.

3) Segmenting Your Email List to Improve Message Effectiveness

How effective do you think a message about a new migraine study or blog post will be if it’s sent to someone who is living with type 2 diabetes? This type of mistake causes dissatisfaction and unsubscribes.

Email list segmentation is an important tactic that drastically improves the effectiveness of your messaging. Have a new blog post about migraine headaches or an upcoming study? If you have a group for your migraine patients, you can send out emails that are more detailed and engaging.

Otherwise, you’ll be forced to keep things more generic in each email that you send. If your emails offer nothing of value to a subscriber, they’ll quickly opt-out from your list.

How can you segment your patient database list? For our clients, users need to pick a condition in order to complete their form. That extra information can be used to segment large patient database by specific conditions. Now when they have an upcoming study for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), they can send out a notification to their RA patient group easily. Of course, general announcements can still be sent out to their entire patient database too.

4) Take the Extra Step to Make Your Emails Engaging

One of the greatest benefits of using email marketing is that it can be used to build a great relationship with your subscriber list. If subscribers find something engaging and beneficial in your emails, this builds a relationship that results in more web traffic and better patient recruitment. We recommend using this opportunity to provide extra value to your patient database, not just send out notifications for upcoming studies.

If you maintain a blog and add new content to your site regularly, you can send out regular updates to specific patient segments. Have a new blog post about arthritis? You can send out an email notifying arthritis patients in your database.

You can take that one step further by creating condition-specific newsletters that include:

  • Relevant information from your site
  • News about upcoming studies for that condition
  • New blog posts
  • Physician tips for living with that condition
  • Etc.

Your patient database will appreciate the extra effort that is taken to provide more value. The best email service providers also make it easier to put together aesthetically pleasing emails that will catch the eye!

Screenshot shows an engaging email from Clinical Trials GPS

Screenshot of the launch announcement email we sent for Clinical Trials GPS using Mailchimp



Email marketing has a ton of potential for clinical research recruitment. However, we did want to leave you with one other piece of information. Research studies have shown that 46.4 percent of unsubscribes occur as a result of inbox overload. Even if you send great emails, seeing the same brand name pop up in your inbox too often gets annoying.

Likewise, if you send emails infrequently, people may forget that they gave their consent in the first place.

Success lies in establishing a consistent schedule that you can stick to for the long run. What’s the optimal frequency for clinical trial centers? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. You’re going to have to do some testing to gauge how frequency affects your engagement rates. We recommend starting out with at least one email a month and reading more about email marketing here.

Have more questions for about how email marketing could help your clinical research site? Drop us a line below!