Using Pens as an Incentive for Trial Recruitment of Older Adults: An Embedded Randomised Controlled Trial

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Meeting recruitment targets for randomised controlled trials is challenging. This trial evaluated the effectiveness of including a pen within the trial invitation pack on the recruitment of older adults into a randomised controlled trial.

This trial was embedded within the Occupational Therapist Intervention Study, a falls-prevention randomised controlled trial. Potential participants (n = 1862), who were posted an invitation pack from two General Practitioner practices, were randomised to either not receive a pen (n = 1295) or receive a pen (n = 648) with their invitation pack, using a 2:1 ratio. The primary outcome was the likelihood of being randomised, and therefore fully recruited, to the host trial. To be randomised to the host trial, participants had to: return a consent form and screening form; be eligible on their screening form; and return a baseline questionnaire and a monthly falls calendar. Secondary outcomes were: the likelihood of returning (and time to return) a screening form; being eligible for the host trial; and remaining in the trial for at least 3 months.

The likelihood of being randomised to the host trial did not differ between the pen group (4.5%) and no pen group (4.3%; odds ratio 1.04; 95% confidence interval: 0.65 to 1.67; p = 0.86). There were marginal differences in secondary outcomes in favour of the pen group, particularly in screening form return rates, though these differences were not statistically significant.

Pens may not be an effective incentive for the recruitment of older adults into randomised controlled trials, though future trials are required.

Registration: ISRCTN22202133; SWAT 37.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Whiteside K et al.


  • Embedded trial
  • Incentive
  • Pen
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • Recruitment

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