Challenges in Ophthalmology Research: Recruitment & Retention

Revised and Updated by Seth Preston on: April 14th, 2020


The final outcome of any clinical trial – the ability to bring new treatments to market – depends on successful patient recruitment and retention despite the unique limitations and challenges of the trial, among other factors.

Recently, we have doubled-down on our commitment to enrolling faster than expected by introducing STRIDE.

Our STRIDE services utilize marketing best practices, paired with Trial Runners’ expertise, and accelerates patient enrollment across the board. Interested? Visit our STRIDE page or contact us for more info.




According to a study done by Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, as many as two-thirds of sites fail to meet enrollment goals. The first step in changing these statistics is identifying barriers in the way of successful enrollment and retention. Some of the most common obstacles include:

  • A complex protocol that contains too many inclusion/exclusion requirements can narrow the pool of eligible study participants until patients who meet the I/E criteria are like needles in a haystack.

  • Recruitment campaigns that don’t speak to the needs and interests of patients can result in high spending and negative return on investment.

  • Being reactive instead of proactive prevents the study team from identifying enrollment deficits and intervening early enough to stay on target with enrollment timelines.

  • Participating in the study is too difficult. If patients have to travel a great distance, check in daily or multiple times daily, dose six times a day, or spend hours at the site, retention is compromised.

These obstacles shouldn’t be the definitive line between successful and failed studies, but often are.



Based on the enrollment barriers identified above, there are several key steps a successful ophthalmology CRO like Trial Runners takes to improve probability of achieving enrollment timelines in any study, regardless of indication, sample size, and protocol complexity:

  1. Take time to consider how the inclusion/exclusion criteria may affect ability to enroll and initiate conversations early. Consider adding sites or adjusting the protocol to meet the needs of the study while expanding the pool of eligible patients.
  2. Create customized recruitment campaigns that speak directly to the patient. Extend beyond the specifics of the study to tell the patient how participation could impact their quality of life, their prognosis, and their family. Emphasize the heroic nature of study participation and the difference it can make for other patients just like them.
  3. Track screen failure rate and enrollment progress in real time and identify deviations from the project plan early. Have enrollment strategies on hand before study commencement so they can be deployed with little effort when metrics start veering wayward.
  4. Use technology for the greatest reach. Gone are the days of snail mail and recruitment brochures except as a reinforcement of successful online campaigns. Bring a marketing expert onto the study who can make your message meaningful and get it front of the right audience almost immediately.
  5. Make it easy to participate in the study. Consider investing in ways to make it easy for patients to participate such as travel reimbursement, travel agent services, lodging for lengthy appointments, and local options for dosing or reporting whenever possible.


Successful ophthalmology research relies on successful patient recruitment and retention. Trial Runners addresses this critical component of study design and execution through education, pro-activity, adaptability, and execution. To learn more about Trial Runners, our extensive ophthalmology expertise, and the services we offer, contact:

Trial Runners is a full service ophthalmology CRO, providing biotech and pharmaceutical companies with results-driven programs and solutions.