Recruiting family physicians to participate as subjects of clinical studies is challenging. Monetary incentives are often used to increase enrolment, but few studies have measured the impact of doing so. As part of a trial seeking to compare two formats of interactive activities within an online continuing medical education (CME) program, we compared family physicians’ recruitment rates with and without a monetary incentive. Recruitment took place by email.
Family physicians listed in the directory of the College of Physicians of the Province of Quebec (Canada) were emailed a one-page letter inviting them to participate in a randomized trial designed to evaluate a three-hour online CME program on rheumatology. Half of physicians were randomly allocated to receive a version of the letter that offered them $300 to participate (incentive group); the other half was not offered compensation (no-incentive group).
A total of 1314 (91%) physicians had a valid email address as listed in the directory. The response rate was 7.5% (54/724) in the incentive group and 2.6% (19/724) in the no-incentive group (absolute difference [AD] 4.8%, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] = 2.6 – 7.2%; risk ratio [RR] 2.8, 95% CI = 1.7 - 4.7). Recruitment rates were 3.5% (25/724) in the incentive group and 0.6% (4/724) in the no-incentive group (AD 2.9%, 95% CI = 1.5 - 4.5%; RR 6.3, 95% CI = 2.2 - 17.9).
Monetary incentives significantly increased recruitment, which nonetheless remained low. To reach recruitment targets, researchers are advised to plan for an extensive list of email contacts and to minimize restrictive eligibility criteria.