Patient portal messaging for research recruitment in the era of COVID-19


Researchers have had to explore new modes of patient identification and recruitment due to the restrictions and resource limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Electronic health record (EHR)-based participant identification and recruitment through patient portal messaging offer potential solutions to help researchers meet recruitment goals without the additional risk of in-person interaction. The purpose of this poster is to report the efficacy of a patient portal recruitment messaging service at a large academic health network with a particular focus on messaging done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MyChart Recruitment Service is a collaboration between data analysts, experts in recruitment methods, and clinical researchers. Teams utilizing the service gain approval from the IRB as well as the MyChart Recruitment Council. To inform the process, we examined the sociodemographic characteristics of active MyChart users compared to all patients within the JHHS EMR. Response rates were calculated by the total number of people messaged divided by the total number of responses.

Message batch sizes range from 1 to 1,000 messages. The average overall response rate is 6.13%. The response rate was 1.87% prior to March 2020 and 7.10% after March 2020. The frequency of messaging ranged from daily to monthly. The response rate among entirely online studies was 8.66%. The response rate for studies recruiting healthy volunteers was 2.60%. 53% of JHHS patients had an active MyChart account. Active MyChart users were representative of the JHHS population in terms age, but were more likely to be female, white, and non-Hispanic.
The MyChart Recruitment Service has sent patient portal recruitment messages on behalf of 66 teams. Patient portal messaging has been particularly effective for research teams recruiting for entirely online studies. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic when many research activities have been moved to online and remote platforms, EHR cohort identification and patient portal recruitment messaging can help research teams meet recruitment goals.

PhD Student
IT Sr. Manager
Program Administrator Recruitment Innovation Unit
Administrative Director
Daniel E.
Ford, MD, MPH
CTSA PI and Vice Dean for Clinical Investigation
Dennison Himmelfarb
Professor and Associate Dean for Research; Deputy Director, Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research