Adapting Peer Researcher Facilitated Strategies to Recruit People Receiving Mental Health Services to a Tobacco Treatment Trial

Publication Name

Frontiers in Psychiatry


Introduction: One of the most challenging aspects of conducting intervention trials among people who experience severe mental illness (SMI) and who smoke tobacco, is recruitment. In our parent “QuitLink” randomized controlled trial (RCT), slower than expected peer researcher facilitated recruitment, along with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, necessitated an adaptive recruitment response. The objectives of the present study were to: (i) describe adaptive peer researcher facilitated recruitment strategies; (ii) explore the effectiveness of these strategies; (iii) investigate whether recruitment strategies reached different subgroups of participants; and (iv) examine the costs and resources required for implementing these strategies. Finally, we offer experience-based lessons in a Peer Researcher Commentary. Methods: People were included in the RCT if they smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day and were accessing mental health support from the project's two partnering mental health organizations in Victoria, Australia. The majority of people accessing these services will have been diagnosed with SMI. Recruitment occurred over 2 years. We began with peer facilitated recruitment strategies delivered face-to-face, then replaced this with direct mail postcards followed by telephone contact. In the final 4 months of the study, we began online recruitment, broadening it to people who smoked and were accessing support or treatment (including from general practitioners) for mental health and/or alcohol or other drug problems, anywhere in the state of Victoria. Differences between recruitment strategies on key participant variables were assessed. We calculated the average cost per enrolee of the different recruitment approaches. Results: Only 109 people were recruited from a target of 382: 29 via face-to-face (March 2019 to April 2020), 66 from postcards (May 2020 to November 2020), and 14 from online (November to December 2020 and January to March 2021) strategies. Reflecting our initial focus on recruiting from supported independent living accommodation facilities, participants recruited face-to-face were significantly more likely to be living in partially or fully supported independent living (n = 29, <0.001), but the samples were otherwise similar. After the initial investment in training and equipping peer researchers, the average cost of recruitment was AU$1,182 per participant—~US$850. Face-to-face recruitment was the most expensive approach and postcard recruitment the least (AU$1,648 and AU$928 per participant). Discussion: Peer researcher facilitated recruitment into a tobacco treatment trial was difficult and expensive. Widely dispersed services and COVID-19 restrictions necessitated non-face-to-face recruitment strategies, such as direct mail postcards, which improved recruitment and may be worthy of further research. Clinical Trial Registration: The trial is registered with ANZCTR ( ACTRN12619000244101 prior to the accrual of the first participant and updated regularly as per registry guidelines. The trial sponsor was the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

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National Health and Medical Research Council



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