Expanding UNC research to new participants
From Buncombe County to the Outer Banks, people across North Carolina are interested and searching for research participation opportunities. Research for Me, the centralized resource at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to find research opportunities and learn about research, aims to connect these people with research teams.
Recruiting patients in clinics can be difficult, especially when they are not familiar with the research mission of the University and how it fits in with their care. We have been thrilled to see that people across the state and from all age groups and backgrounds are regular users.
With nearly 15,000 users registered on the website and over 40,000 unique visitors, Research for Me is making an impact on patients and researchers alike. The website aims to meet people where they are when it comes to research.
Using the Research for Me website
Registration is not required to browse or express interest in studies. Study team contact information is also available for interested participants to ask questions. Users who choose to register can submit their interest in a study with one click, and keep track of the studies they have reached out to.
"Working with both patients and healthy volunteers over the past decade, I've found people are excited about research and want to participate again or share opportunities with loved ones. They wanted to be able to browse the full spectrum of studies at UNC rather than waiting to be approached or stumbling upon a flyer," says Emily Olsson, manager of the NC TraCS Recruitment and Retention program, "we created Research for Me @UNC to provide people with that access."
The website works like an online, searchable bulletin board, where users can search for topics and find opportunities. With focus on vaccine clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch of the website was well-timed to meet the surge in public interest. In addition to exploring study opportunities on their interests or conditions, patients and potential participants can learn about the research process itself, the regulations around safety and privacy, and what it means to contribute to research as a participant.
"Recruiting patients in clinics can be difficult, especially when they are not familiar with the research mission of the University and how it fits in with their care," Olsson says. "We have been thrilled to see that people across the state and from all age groups and backgrounds are regular users. In fact, over 50% of our users are over the age of 35, and many are looking for studies for their specific conditions."
What researchers are saying
Kim Weaver, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and principal investigator for the PREVENT COVID study, is examining the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Weaver uses Research for Me to direct interested participants to enroll in the study online. The website provides her with a study-specific page that she and other participants can share on social media, via email, or in person.
"We're looking for people across the country with IBD to participate in PREVENT COVID. Using Research for Me gives our study even more visibility alongside our other recruitment methods, and we have seen participants share the listing on social media and IBD forums, which has helped our study be seen by even more patients who may be able to participate," said Weaver.
Martha Almond, research coordinator at the UNC Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology (UNC CEMALB) regularly uses Research for Me to recruit both healthy volunteers and reach patients with allergies and asthma. "Research for Me has helped us get lots of interest from members of the community and students who are looking for something interesting to do. Sometimes our healthy volunteers initially choose to participate to get a little extra money, but once they get here, they become interested in the science. Since these folks often have a good experience, they tend to be willing to consider participating in research again."
Features for participants and researchers
Research for Me aims to communicate research information to patients in a way that is accessible to the public. "Resources like clinicaltrials.gov can be helpful for clinicians to find studies for patients, but [those listings] are not written in a way that patients can understand," says Olsson. Research teams can request an optimization of their study listing to help make their language more user-friendly, and that information is displayed in a format that is easy to read and navigate.
Recently, Research for Me has added new features that teams can use to manage their potential participant interest and learn more about their study listing's metrics. School of Medicine departments and divisions can also request a departmental page that can be linked from their websites to highlight available research without duplicating effort to maintain an up-to-date study list on their own websites.
"This is a first step toward more impactful participant engagement; we really hope this platform can be used to more easily connect interested participants with study opportunities, but also showcase the wide range of incredible research that UNC has to offer and get people excited to be part of it," said Olsson. "We are always looking for ways to continue evolving the platform, and we welcome feedback from users, research teams, and clinicians.
Your personal Researcher Dashboard allows you to view and manage all of your Research for Me @UNC study listings in one convenient place. Initial listings are submitted via an IRB application, but existing listings can be managed via the dashboard. Visit researcherdashboard.unc.edu