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The Use of Technology in Participant Tracking and Study Retention: Lessons Learned from a Clinical Trials Network Study.

Substance Abuse 2015;36(4):420-426. [doi: 10.1080/08897077.2014.992565]

Shannon Gwin Mitchell, PhD (Friends Research Institute, MA Node), Robert P. Schwartz, MD (Friends Research Institute, MA Node), Anika A. H. Alvanzo, MD, MS (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, MA Node), Monique S. Weisman, LSW (Alcoholic Rehabilitation Center of Hawaii), Tiffany L. Kyle, PhD (The Center for Drug Free Living, FNA Node), Eva M. Turrigiano, MS (New York State Psychiatric Institute, GNY Node), Martha L. Gibson (Midtown Community Mental Health Center, OV Node), Livangelie Perez (The Center for Drug Free Living, FNA Node), Erin A. McClure, PhD (Medical University of South Carolina, SC Node), Sara Clingerman (University of Miami, FNA Node), Autumn Froias (Stanley Street Treatment and Resources, NEC Node), Danielle R. Shandera (Evergreen Manor, PN Node), N. Robrina Walker, PhD (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, TX Node), Dean L. Babcock, LCSW, LCAC (Midtown Community Mental Health Center, OV Node), Genie L. Bailey, MD (Stanley Street Treatment and Resources, NEC Node), Gloria M. Miele, PhD (Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, GNY Node), Lynn E. Kunkel, MS (Oregon Health & Science University, WS Node), Michael Norton, LCSW, LADC (Midwestern Connecticut Council on Alcoholism, NEC), Maxine L. Stitzer, PhD (Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, MA Node).

The growing use of newer communication and internet technologies, even among low income and transient populations, require research staff to update their outreach strategies to ensure high follow-up and participant retention rates. This paper presents the views of research assistants on the use of cell phones and the internet to track participants in a multi-site randomized trial of substance use disorder treatment.Pre-interview questionnaires exploring tracking and other study-related activities were collected from 21 research staff across the 10 sites participating in the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network study CTN-0044, about an online intervention for substance use disorders (Therapeutic Education System).  Data were then used to construct a semi-structured interview guide which, in turn, was used to interview 12 of the same staff members. The questionnaires and interview data were entered in Atlas.ti and analyzed for emergent themes related to the use of technology for participant tracking purposes.

Study staff reported that most participants had cell phones, despite having unstable physical addresses and landlines. The incoming call feature of most cell phones was useful for participants and research staff alike, and texting proved to have additional benefits. However, reliance on participants' cell phones also proved problematic at times. Even homeless participants were found to have access to the internet through public libraries and could respond to study staff e-mails. Some study sites opened generic social media accounts, through which study staff sent private messages to participants. However, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval process for tracking participants using social media at some sites was prohibitively lengthy. Internet searches through Google, national paid databases, obituaries, and judiciary websites were also helpful tool.

Conclusions: Research staff perceive that cell phones, internet searches, and social networking sites were effective tools to achieve high follow-up rates in drug abuse research and should be used in addition to established study procedures. Studies should incorporate cell phone, texting, and social network website information on locator forms; obtain IRB approval for contacting participants using social networking websites; and include web searches, texting, and the use of social media in staff training as standard operating procedures. (Article (Peer-Reviewed), PDF, English, 2015)

Keywords: CTN platform/ancillary study | Homeless persons | Internet counseling | Research design | Retention - Research | Social media | Therapeutic Education System (TES) | Substance Abuse (journal)

Document No: 1124, PMID: 25671593, PMCID: PMC4532645.

Submitted by CTN Dissemination Librarians, 2/23/2015.

Alvanzo, Anika A. H.
Babcock, Dean L. mail
Bailey, Genie L. mail
Clingerman, Sara mail
Froias, Autumn
Gibson, Martha L.
Kunkel, Lynn E. mail
Kyle, Tiffany L. mail
McClure, Erin A. mail
Miele, Gloria M. mail
Mitchell, Shannon Gwin mail
Norton, Michael mail
Perez, Livangelie
Schwartz, Robert P. mail
Shandera, Danielle R.
Stitzer, Maxine L. mail
Turrigiano, Eva M. mail
Walker, N. Robrina mail
Weisman, Monique S.
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