Brigham and Women’s Heather Baer, ScD, is the principal investigator of a study looking at three strategies for weight management in the primary care setting. Dr. Baer is just one of the hundreds of investigators at Partners HealthCare working to address a health care challenge through clinical research. Like researchers across the country though, Dr. Baer first had to address the challenge of meeting the patient recruitment needs for the study, before addressing the clinical problem. 

“The pressure was on,” shared Dr. Baer. “We had research funding in place, our study objectives defined and we had hundreds of patients to recruit.”

With hundreds of ongoing clinical trials and research activities at Partners institutions, investigators are routinely tasked with recruiting the right number of patients and more specifically, the right type of patient, to meet the objectives of their study. Relying on manual methods – advertisements, mailings, calls – can be costly and not always effective.

Looking for a more efficient and impactful solution, Dr. Baer turned to Partners eCare Research Core (PeRC). Partners eCare is the system-wide initiative to implement and leverage the Epic electronic health record across all Partners sites. 

A Simple Way to Recruit Patients

A patient’s health record has enough information to draw a picture that they are eligible for a research study – it just requires the right report. That’s where PeRC comes in. The PeRC team creates the logic behind the scenes directly within Epic to identify the patients who should receive a recruitment letter for a study – or the study team provides PeRC a file of eligible patients; importantly, both lists are compiled under strict privacy guidelines with approval from the Partners Institutional Review Board which oversees human subjects research.

PeRC also facilitates communication between researchers and qualifying subjects via Partners Patient Gateway, through either the Research Opportunities Direct to You program or, if approved, a personalized electronic message from a study’s primary investigator and a member of the patient’s care team. With access to the right patients at their fingertips, researchers can then recruit patients for their voluntary participation in real-time.

With the help of PeRC, Dr. Baer and her team met their recruitment goals, were able to reach more patients in a shorter amount of time while utilizing less resources than regular mail, and had a higher rate of enrollment of patients contacted via Patient Gateway than any other method.

They also found the total, ongoing cost using PeRC services to be far lower than what it would typically cost them with the recruitment via regular mail or phone.

“Just as important as overall cost savings, we found that messaging through Partners Patient Gateway saved us time,” recalled Dr. Baer. “The lead time to reach a potential subject was just 19 hours, compared with other methods where our team would have to wait days or weeks to reach them, thus delaying our research.”

What’s Next

With the last planned large scale Epic implementation complete, Partners eCare is evolving its structure to support the current and future needs of users. For PeRC, that means offering more services, efficiencies and innovations to the Partners research community so they can focus on the next great advancement in medicine.

Adrian Zai, MD, PhD, MPH is the Director of Research for Partners eCare and heads PeRC. For more information on PeRC, please email

Tags: coordinated care, redesigning care