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Author: ClinEdge Staff

Oct 26, 2016 •

Improving Health Literacy in Clinical Trials

Health literacy doesn’t just mean the ability to read and write; it’s the degree to which individuals can understand, communicate, and act upon health information. People from all walks of life struggle with health literacy; health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy skills. However, older adults, immigrants, minorities, and individuals with low incomes are more likely to have difficulty with health literacy. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, more than ¼ of American adults are in basic or below basic health literacy groups and only 12% of U.S. adults possess proficient health literacy.

In the clinical trial industry, health literacy efforts are usually focused on patients that have already entered the system. These efforts are applied to informed consent and engagement strategies, to make sure that participants remain in the study and follow protocols correctly. Retention is important but health literacy should be prioritized throughout the entire clinical research timeline, from the start of recruitment onward.

Health literacy is a key barrier to participation in clinical trials. You’ve probably heard this statistic before: 80% of clinical trials fail to meet enrollment goals. Millions and millions of Americans with low health literacy are being completely missed by recruitment efforts. Low health literacy doesn’t disqualify someone from participating in a trial. Actually, people with lower health literacy experience higher rates of chronic illness, which make them attractive potential patients for a variety of trials. Recruitment and educational materials associated with clinical trials should be designed with every patient in mind so that sites can recruit patients in every health literacy group. Here are some tips for developing patient recruitment and retention content that people of all health literacy levels can connect with:

  • Use plain language in all recruitment collateral. Plain language doesn’t mean “dumbing down”. It means clear, effective communication. Plain language makes health information easier to understand and use for everyone. Keeping sentences short, writing in active voice, and using everyday words whenever possible are all ways to work plain language into communications. Use creative, compelling, and eye-catching trial collateral that’s free of medical jargon.
  • Get visual. You know what they say- a picture is worth a thousand words. Replacing words with pictures and diagrams whenever possible is a good way to simplify complicated medical information. For example, laying out a study protocol in the form of a simple step-by-step infographic takes something that’s potentially confusing and makes it clear.
  • Mix it up. Both recruitment and retention efforts should be available physically and digitally. Patients immediately forget anywhere from 40-80% of medical information that they receive and half of the information they do “remember” is remembered incorrectly. Printed educational materials for subjects can be a great resource to remind them of all the important trial information. Any digital content for your clinical trial should be shareable and supported across multiple devices. For example, mobile options must be available for millennials, just as email messaging should be available for baby boomers.
  • Expand outreach. For enrollment to grow, community involvement is a must. Community clinics, health fairs, newspapers, senior centers, support groups, and faith-based organizations are all appropriate targets for increasing clinical trial awareness in communities. Hold speaking engagements and educational sessions in your community to build up trust and knowledge.


As a full service patient recruitment and marketing company, ClinEdge Engage can help you develop patient recruitment and retention strategies that patients of all health literacy levels can connect with. Whether it’s designing captivating patient education materials, facilitating local engagement, or running targeted online campaigns, ClinEdge Engage can help you connect to future and current patients through a mix of initiatives. Contact us today to see how your research site can benefit from a customized marketing and patient recruitment strategy.

Sources:, AppliedCT,


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