Recruiting experiences of NIH-funded principal investigators for community-based health behavior interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic

Rebecca A. Seguin-Fowler, Margaret Demment, Sara C. Folta, Meredith Graham, Karla Hanson, Jay E. Maddock, Megan S. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Successful recruitment into randomized trials and interventions is essential to advance scientific knowledge to improve health. This rapid assessment study explored how the COVID-19 pandemic affected participant recruitment overall, identified how it exacerbated existing challenges to recruit hard-to-reach populations, and described how NIH-funded Principal Investigators (PIs) responded to COVID-era recruitment challenges. A cross-sectional survey of NIH-funded PIs conducting interventions and trials related to health behaviors was conducted in 2022. The survey was completed by 52 PIs, most of whom were highly experienced in this type of research. Eighteen PIs reported it was very difficult to recruit participants now (39.1%) compared to before COVID-19 when only one did (2.2%). PIs reported changing recruitment and data collection methods (29.4%), increasing staff dedicated to recruitment (29.4%), and increasing participant compensation (23.5%). Recruitment methods shifted from in-person activities to social media and other electronic communications. Barriers to recruitment included reluctance to participate in research, COVID-19 protocols and precautions, overwhelmed community partners, staff burnout and turnover, and limited access to technology for some populations that were already hard to reach. Facilitators to recruitment consisted of increased access and ability to use remote technologies, use of social media, strong community ties, and wanting to be part of something positive. PIs perceived recruitment as much more difficult after the onset of COVID-19, though research teams were able to pivot to more online and remote options. These tools may have a lasting impact in modernizing recruitment, data collection, and intervention techniques in future trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107271
Pages (from-to)107271
JournalContemporary Clinical Trials
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Randomized trials
  • Recruitment
  • Pandemics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Health Behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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