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Littman AJ, True G, Ashmore E, Wellens T, Smith NL. How can we get Iraq- and Afghanistan-deployed US Veterans to participate in health-related research? Findings from a national focus group study. BMC medical research methodology. 2018 Aug 29; 18(1):88.
Research participant recruitment is often fraught with obstacles. Poor response rates can reduce statistical power, threaten both internal and external validity, and increase study costs and duration. Military personnel are socialized to a specific set of laws, norms, traditions, and values; their willingness to participate in research may differ from civilians. The aims of this study were to better understand the views of United States (US) Veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/ Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) on research and motivators for participating in research to inform recruitment for a planned observational study of respiratory health in OEF/OIF Veterans.
We conducted 10 focus groups in a purposive sample of OEF/OIF Veterans (n =?89) in five US cities in 2015. Key topics included: reasons for participating or declining to participate in health-related research, logistics around study recruitment and conduct, compensation, written materials, and information sharing preferences for study results. Two authors independently coded the data using template analysis.
Participants identified three criteria that motivated a decision to participate in health-related research: 1) adequate compensation, 2) desire to help other Veterans, and 3) significance and relevance of the research topic. For many, both sufficient compensation and a sense that the study would help other Veterans were critical. The importance of transparency arose as a key theme; Veterans communicated that vague language about study aims or procedures engendered distrust. Lastly, participants expressed a desire for studies to communicate results of their specific health tests, as well as overall study findings, back to research participants.
OEF/OIF Veterans described trust, transparent communication, and respect as essential characteristics of research in which they would be willing to participate. Additional studies are needed to determine whether our results generalize to other US Veterans; nevertheless, our results highlight precepts that have been reported as important for recruitment in other populations. Researchers may benefit from using community-engaged research methods to seek feedback on recruitment materials and strategies prior to initiating research. For costly studies targeting a large sample (i.e. in the thousands), it may be important to test a variety of recruitment strategies.