Today’s Clinical Trials: Do Print Materials Still Pack a Punch?

by Hope Cullen
Printing Clinical Trial Materials

Even in this digital age, printed clinical trial materials remain popular and important tools for keeping sites and patients engaged. Clinical study sites rely on printed materials to gain local interest, and popular examples include:

  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Fact sheets

These printed tools are designed to capture the attention of individuals passing through health care environments where the sites reside. These environments include independent research clinics and are often departments within a hospital or an academic medical center. These settings provide a broad-based opportunity to introduce the clinical study to many patients and health care professionals, allowing them to gain interest, start to digest the information, and ask immediate questions if needed.

We often include QR codes on these documents. That way, a quick click on a smartphone will take a potential participant to the study’s online recruitment site to begin the recruitment process. This shows how printed and digital clinical trial materials work nicely together.

Print is patient-centric

In the U.S., internet use is high–close to 100 percent of adults are connected. Usage drops to 75 percent with the 65+ age group, which is the population usually needed for Alzheimer’s and dementia studies.

Breakdown by age group

About 10 percent of the world is 65 or older, and these mature populations often prefer non-tech options. In clinical trials, such a preference would clearly apply to recruitment and engagement materials like symptom diaries. Studies with older populations steadfastly rely on printed options.

 Participants appreciate print

Print provides a personal connection. When our colleague Imogen Cheese interviewed study participants about their personal experiences, an oncology patient named Lucy told us firsthand about the power of printed clinical trial materials.

Lucy described the contrast between joining a trial and later changing to an approved treatment:

I was given verbal information, but I don’t remember being given any written information. I was quite shocked when I went to a different treatment. When I moved on to an approved treatment, I was given a glossy magazine about it, and I remember at the time going, wow, this is exciting, because I definitely didn’t get it with the first trial.”

A quality printed piece has a tactile presence. It is a real object that allows the reader to connect physically as well as visually. A postcard, a brochure, or a flyer is a great take-home item that puts a clinical study right into the reader’s hands.

 Printed clinical trial materials can be the most reliable option

Issues surrounding technical abilities and access are especially challenging for global clinical studies. According to the UN agency for digital technology, “2.9 billion people – around one-third of humanity – still remain totally offline, and many hundreds of millions more struggle with expensive, poor-quality access that does little to materially improve their lives.”

For many studies, sponsors are concerned about the participant’s ability to use a technology solution.

Areas of concern include:

  • Can the clinical study participant get what they need?
  • Does the participant have good connectivity?
  • Will they be able to find the information online?
  • Who will supply the device (site or participant)?
  • Is the participant’s device older? Is the operating system still supported?
  • Will the device be supported throughout the duration of the study?
  • Will the device’s power source function in the participant’s country?

Printed clinical study materials can cut through all of that. Print is a known, workable way to share information and printed information can’t be hacked.

In our blog about the future of decentralized clinical trials, Kenneth Getz listed some pitfalls of digital trials. Getz is an internationally-recognized expert on clinical trial management practices and trends.

He pointed out that when using technology, dedicated personnel are required to train study staff members and patients on how to use the equipment and software and to troubleshoot technology issues. All this adds time and expenses to the trial.

“There any many details we don’t typically think about,” he said. “There is a lot that has to be worked out and addressed.”

A “thank you” goes a long way

Clinical trial thank you card

Simple tools can generate a strong impact. Every study should include thank you cards branded with the study name or protocol number. Amidst the blood draws, the ECGs, and exams, thank you cards reinforce the study team’s appreciation of the participant. Cards remind participants that they are more than data. Our clients use these at all different study phases, most often when study participation has ended.

Another piece we create regularly is the milestone card. These are essential for long-duration studies. They can commemorate a year, or movement from one phase to another, such as from the blinded phase to the open-label phase.

Printed greeting and thank you cards are timeless, and classic etiquette never goes out of style. In these days of cluttered inboxes, receiving a printed card is special.

Printed clinical research materials can ease logistics

Another consideration is logistics – when compared to technological tools, shipping paper is less challenging. The world is still facing monumental logistics challenges brought on by Covid, and now exacerbated by war in Europe, supply chain issues, and border tightening.

Most countries are less concerned about paper products being imported than electronic goods, with software receiving particular scrutiny from customs authorities.

Print remains a low-risk choice, and that’s what many sponsors and CROs like about it.


There’s no doubt that we are experiencing a growth of digital tools in clinical trials. However, there is no evidence of a pending shift completely from print to digital, and there is no substitute for the visual impact or tactile experience we get from printed materials. We doubt we will see the end of print anytime soon and expect printed clinical trial materials to remain a viable and robust option for a long time.

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