When it comes to clinical research, email has gotten an unjust reputation.

While non-verbal conversations between two friends these days are primarily conducted through text messages or similar apps, email has become the standard mode of communication for people’s interactions with businesses and organizations. 

Governments, businesses, and private organizations understand that emails have several advantages, undercutting the prevailing notion that email is inappropriate for important personal outreach.  

Within clinical research, email is not just a compliant and valuable tool; it’s commonly the gold standard when communicating with participants. Read on to find out why.

A global shift in communication dynamics

Whether it's updates from their general practitioners or notifications, email has become standard for communicating between government agencies and their populations. 

In the United States (US), essential government services like tax, voting information, and registration are emailed to those who opt out of physical mail. In the United Kingdom (UK), the National Health Service (NHS) uses email as a key form of interaction with patients and their practitioners, with many patients opting to receive appointments, notifications about test results availability, or invitations for research participation over email.

The prevalence of email usage extends far beyond the UK and US. Email remains a significant tool even in remote geographies such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where smartphones are often the primary mode of communication. 

Statista states, “The number of smartphone subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 689 million by 2028, based on steady growth seen in earlier years.” Furthermore, Statista also states that smartphone adoption across the Asia Pacific region was at 76% in 2022 and [is] projected to hit 90% by 2030.”

Why email is the gold standard

Habits around email are very positive. According to statistics from PorchGroupMedia:

Emails are often a better communication method than traditional methods, such as phone calls and letters. This is because emails are:

  • More efficient: Emails can be sent and received at any time, regardless of the recipient's availability, and can be scheduled to send automatically upon a trigger.
  • More trackable: You can track who has opened and read your emails.
  • More searchable: You can easily search your emails for specific information and store them for future reference.


Additionally, people are more attentive to their email. This is because emails are:

  • More personal: Emails can be personalized to the recipient.
  • More timely: Emails can be sent immediately or triggered by an event, so they are more likely to be read when the information is relevant. 
  • More engaging: Emails can be formatted with images and videos to make them more engaging.

Collecting email addresses from potential clinical trial participants enables you to:

  • Cast a wider net: You can use email to reach a wider audience of potential participants.
  • Engage participants: You can use email to inform participants about updates in the field of their condition and provide 
  • Improve retention: You can use email to remind participants about their appointments and enable participation with a reduced burden.

The privacy perspective

There remain many misconceptions about email in clinical practice. Some have heard that collecting email is non-compliant with local laws and regulations, while others state that they need the study informed consent before collecting email addresses. 

Neither of these, however, is true. 

From a privacy perspective, collecting email addresses from potential clinical trial participants can be perfectly compliant with all local regulations, guidelines, and IRBs as long as key data protection elements are followed. 

You must follow two golden rules when collecting participants' email addresses. 

  • First, you must understand the consent gathered to use or process the email address at the study stage. In ‘pre-trial’ communications, this is typically between the site and the participant to share the necessary information through the email address. As part of the informed consent process, it must be clearly explained how the email address will be used for the study purposes and who will have access to this as part of the study operations.   
  • Second, you must protect the data. All email data collected must be stored securely and only be used according to the terms and conditions outlined in the consent process. Nothing that the participant has not consented to, e.g., contact about future research or retention of the email address in a registry, can be part of the processing activities.

Top clients choose email because it’s here to stay

Several of our customers are using unified clinical trial platforms, like Medable’s, to conduct clinical trials the world, in settings where participants are remote to the sites as well as those where all of the activities take place within a more traditional setting

In many of these instances, customers choose email as the primary mode of communication due to the benefits that this brings them in terms of engagement, adherence, and retention. In the rare instance where a participant does not have an email or is unwilling to provide an address they currently use, the customer is providing sites with tablets so that an email address can be easily and quickly created for use on trial. 

In today’s digital trial landscape, email remains an indispensable ally in clinical trials, offering efficiency, reach, and adherence. Embracing this digital gold standard ensures effective communication, successful participant recruitment, engagement, and retention, ultimately contributing to the advancement of clinical research globally.