Discussion around the way in which you should compensate participants in clinical studies, trials and surveys has shifted in recent years. Incentivizing your participants shouldn't distract them from potential repercussions of their participation, rather, it should reflect the onus you expect of them.

A study conducted by The Journal of Clinical Investigation notes that payment of clinical research subjects is often seen as "an acceptable and perhaps necessary part of recruitment for clinical investigation," suggesting that whether you're reimbursing participants out of pocket expenses or compensating them as a means of recognizing the value of their participation and time, a payment vehicle is still required.

But how you payout your clinical participants is the real challenge. A quick online survey doesn't warrant a $500 dollar prepaid card; the same way a 6-week intensive study doesn't warrant a Starbucks gift card for a latte.The key to effectively compensating your participants is first understanding your ask of them and aligning that with your payment initiative. That being said, regardless of the ask, prepaid can help solve any number of your compensation needs and may even give you some insights beyond the study. Let's look at a few reasons why prepaid is the right payment vehicle.


Online surveys, whether they consume 10 minutes or 2 hours, need a little incentive to help get the answers flowing. With prepaid, you can create customizable redemption pages with surveys, quizzes and data captures built directly into the survey site. From there, submission of their survey responses can lead participants directly to a virtual card prize or prompt an email directing them to their compensation.

Gone are the days of filling out surveys and waiting weeks for your gift card or cheque to arrive. Provide them with the instant gratification needed to incentivize participation in the survey and reward them with real money that they can use anywhere Visa or Mastercard is accepted.


Reimbursement in clinical and research studies (as stated by TCPS Article 3.2), is "to ensure that participants are not put at a direct or indirect financial disadvantage for the time and inconvenience of participation in research," and, according to University of Toronto's Guidelines for Compensation and Reimbursement of Research Participants, "therefore removes financial implications from participants' consideration to enroll."

But when faced with disbursing expense reimbursements, what's the best way?

Oftentimes participants have varying degrees of expenses from travel, transit, child care and more. In situations where studies are lengthy, you don't want to make participants wait until the end of the study or trial to receive their funds. Choosing reloadable prepaid, however, allows program managers to load funds onto cards in real-time through an easily accessible dashboard as expenses come in, or they can be front-loaded with money and topped up as funds are used. Front-loaded expense cards can then be Merchant Category Code restricted based on expense fulfillment requirements, tracked to ensure cards are being used correctly, and so on.


Unlike reimbursement, compensation is meant to justify time spent and to show respect for the participant "recognizing that the time and effort of participation is valuable and worthy of recognition," (University of Toronto's Guidelines for Compensation and Reimbursement of Research Participants). Based on numerous factors including nature of research, culture of participants, etc., compensation can be disbursed through both reloadable and non-reloadable prepaid.

Whether you're looking to payout in incremental amounts throughout the study (reloadable), or in one lump sum (non-reloadable), prepaid offers you fully branded payment vehicles that enhance the clinical participant's end user experience.

But what does prepaid give you that cash, cheques, or gift cards never will?


Prepaid can offer you insights into your participants beyond the initial study and can inform future research and recruitment techniques. You may learn that a $10 dollar-10 minute survey was more efficient and drove better completion rates than a $50 dollar-30 minute survey.

When looking to recruitment techniques, understanding your participants spend behaviour can also inform recruitment collateral, geographical hotspots for flyers and internet postings.

Not to mention, reimbursement and compensation insights can help inform drop-off rates of participants. Perhaps incremental compensation was more effective at maintaining participation levels than payouts upon completion.

In some cases, understanding how payouts of your clinical participants affects your study may be just as relevant as the results you garner.

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