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Use of Technology Helpful in Participant Tracking and Study Retention

April 1, 2015
Mitchell SG, et al.
Mitchell SG, et al. The use of technology in participant tracking and study retention: Lessons learned from a Clinical Trials Network study. Substance Abuse 2015 (in press).
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The growing use of newer communication and Internet technologies, even among low income and homeless populations, require research staff to update their outreach strategies to ensure high follow-up and participant retention rates. This paper by Shannon Gwin Mitchell and colleagues presents the views of research assistants on the use of cell phones and the Internet to track participants in CTN-0044, which examined the efficacy of an online intervention for substance use disorders (the Therapeutic Education System).

Questionnaires were administered to 21 research staff across the 10 sites participating in CTN-0044. Study staff reported some interesting information about participants:

Most study participants had cell phones, despite often having unstable physical addresses and landlines.

  • Texting proved to have additional benefits, particularly with younger adults, who were more likely to read texts than listen to voice mail messages.
  • Even homeless participants were found to have access to the Internet, often through public libraries, and could respond to study staff emails.
  • Some study sites used generic social media accounts to send private messages to participants; others reported that obtaining Institutional Review Board (IRB) approvals for use of social media in tracking participants was prohibitively complicated.
  • Internet searches through Google, national paid databases, obituaries, and judiciary websites were also helpful tools for tracking participants.

Conclusions: Research staff see cell phones, Internet searches, and social networking sites as effective in achieving high follow-up rates in drug abuse research, making these tools valuable additions to established study procedures. Researchers should consider including cell phone, texting, and social network website information on locator forms; obtaining IRB approval for contacting participants using social networking websites; and including web searches, texting, and use of social media in staff training as standard operating procedures.

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