Opportunities and challenges of delivering digital clinical trials: lessons learned from a randomised controlled trial of an online behavioural intervention for children and young people

Charlotte L. Hall*, Charlotte Sanderson, Beverly J. Brown, Per Andrén, Sophie Bennett, Liam R. Chamberlain, E. Bethan Davies, Kareem Khan, Natalie Kouzoupi, David Mataix-Cols, Caitlin McKenzie, Tara Murphy, Mark Townsend, Chris Hollis, Elizabeth Murray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Despite being the gold standard of research to determine effectiveness, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) often struggle with participant recruitment, engagement and retention. These issues may be exacerbated when recruiting vulnerable populations, such as participants with mental health issues. We aimed to update understanding of the scope of these problems in trials of health technology and identify possible solutions through reflecting on experiences from an exemplar trial (Online Remote Behavioural Intervention for Tics; ORBIT). Method: We extracted anonymised data on recruitment, retention and requests for more funding and time from trials funded by the largest funder of health technology trials in the UK (the National Institute of Health Research Health Technology Assessment) between 2010 and 2020, and compared these with data from a recent, successful trial (ORBIT). ORBIT aimed to assess the clinical- and cost-effectiveness of blended online and human behavioural therapy for tics in young people. Many of the trial procedures, including recruitment, the intervention and data collection, were undertaken online. Results: Data were extracted on 51 trials conducted between 2010 and 2020. Sixty per cent of trials failed to reach their original recruitment target and only 44% achieved their follow-up in the specified time frame. In contrast, ORBIT recruited to target and achieved 90% follow-up. We posit that these achievements are related to (a) judicious use of digital technology for trial procedures and (b) adequate numbers of highly trained and motivated trial staff. We provide details of both these to help other research teams plan and cost for successful trials. Conclusion: An approach combining human and online methods may be advantageous in facilitating trial delivery, particularly in paediatric mental health services. Given the importance of successful clinical trials in advancing healthcare delivery and the waste of human and economic resources associated with unsuccessfully delivered trials, it is imperative that trials are appropriately costed and future research focusses on improving trial design and delivery. Trial registration: The ORBIT trial is registered with ISRTCN (ISRCTN70758207) Registered on March 20, 2018. and ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT03483493). Registered on March 30, 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1011
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Chronic tic disorder
  • Internet
  • Online
  • Randomised controlled trials
  • Recruitment
  • Research design
  • Retention
  • Tourette syndrome


Dive into the research topics of 'Opportunities and challenges of delivering digital clinical trials: lessons learned from a randomised controlled trial of an online behavioural intervention for children and young people'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this