Study Issues

Guest Expert Rahlyn Gossen: Designing patient friendly websites for clinical trial recruitment (Part 2 of 3)

Last Updated: Sep 11, 2014

Part 2: The 5 patient-friendly basics of trial recruitment websites

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Please join me in welcoming back our Guest Expert, Rahlyn Gossen for the 2nd installment of her 3-part series, "Designing Patient-Friendly Websites for Clinical Trial Recruitment.

From Rahyln:

  If you are creating a new patient recruitment website or evaluating your current one, I’d recommend focusing on five major areas of that website. I’m going to describe each of these aspects on a very high level.

 Cognitive Load

 If you have a psychology background, you are probably familiar with the term cognitive load. Cognitive load theory “provides guidelines intended to assist in the presentation of information in a manner that encourages learner activities that optimize intellectual performance.” In essence, cognitive load theory is about presenting information so that people can understand it more easily.

 Reducing cognitive load is particularly important online, where people have been essentially conditioned to have very short attention spans. When people land on a website and cannot quickly (within seconds) tell if it’s relevant to them, they hit the back button. If that happens, you never get a chance to communicate your message.

 What this means for patient recruitment is you need to take complex information and make it more cognitively digestible for potential participants.

 Call To Action (CTA)

 When designing your patient recruitment website, what is the next step you want your visitors to take? Should they call you? Should they complete a form?

 Whatever action you want website visitors to take should be glaringly obvious. Your call to action will often be in the form of a button, though there are exceptions. Regardless, ensure that your call to action is very prominent and placed in optimal locations on your website.


 Website forms are an efficient way to capture patient information. However, forms need to be created in a way that’s reassuring rather than intimidating for the patient. Intimidating forms will decrease your conversion rate.

 For example, only ask what’s truly really necessary. Many patients lack awareness and trust of clinical trials. If you hit patients with lengthy forms requiring sensitive information before they’ve interacted with study staff, they may reconsider what may be very tenuous interest.


 Know your audience. The phrase may be trite, but it’s certainly true in patient recruitment. And I’d take this phrase a step further. Empathize with your audience. The more you appreciate the perspective of your audience, the better you will be able to communicate with them.

 Really take some time to identify common characteristics of your desired audience. Do they share particular demographics, psychographics, health journeys, etc? Research sites are particularly positioned to be effective here because they regularly interact with their audience. Take knowledge about your audience and apply it to how you present clinical trial information online.

 Also realize that your desired audience may not necessarily be your desired patient population. According to Pew Internet, half of all online health information seeking is on behalf of someone else.

 Trust and Credibility

 People judge a book by its cover. In this case, your website is your clinical trial’s online book cover. And people are judging that online book cover very quickly. According to research, visitors form an initial impression of your website in 50 milliseconds. 

 That initial impression is based on appearance, with visitors looking for qualities like professionalism, neatness, and organization. But the trust evaluation doesn’t end there. Website visitors continue to look for trust and credibility cues (good and bad) during every step of the browsing and transaction experience. Make sure that your website sends positive cues.

 Trust and credibility are particularly important given common misconceptions and distrust of clinical trials.

I hope that you've found this information helpful. Feel free to add a comment and share your lessons learned on website design. Be sure and watch AccrualNet for the final installment of this series, "Anatomy of a Patient-Friendly Recruitment Website."

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