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Why talk to your patients about clinical trials

Clinical trials are an essential part of the development of new interventions and tests that  can help your patients and may alleviate the symptoms of their disease or condition.

One of the principal challenges of recruiting clinical trial participants is a lack of awareness, both amongst health care professionals and participants, about clinical trials, their availability and how to participate.

Several studies indicate that increased awareness changes attitudes toward clinical trials, enrolment, and the benefits of participation. For example, the research study entitled Misconceptions and lack of awareness greatly reduce recruitment for cancer clinical trials (See Harris Interactive Survey (2001). Health Care News 1(3).) concluded that:

  • 85% of patients were either unaware or unsure that participation in a clinical trial was an option at the time of diagnosis.
  • 75% of these patients said they would have been willing to enrol in a trial had they known it was possible.

Health care professionals are central to patients’ decision making

As with all aspects of health care, patients look to members of the health care profession for trusted medical advice and guidance. Thus, health care providers including general practitioners, specialists, other health professionals and nurses play an important role in raising awareness about clinical trials.

By discussing possible treatment options, a patient can be made aware of and provided with information about participation in a clinical trial. A research study titled A quantitative survey of public attitudes towards cancer clinical trials (PDF, 30KB). Comis R, Aldige C, Stovall E, Krebs L, Risher P, Taylor H (2000) Coalition of National Cancer Cooperative Groups, Cancer Research Foundation of America, Cancer Leadership Council and Oncology Nursing Society concluded that:

  • 77% of patients who participate in a trial learned about it from their health care professionals
  • 32% of patients who participated in clinical trials reported that their health care professional took the time to explain the trial clearly
  • Participating patients were more likely to have first learned about clinical trials through a doctor, to have had a doctor explain the pros and cons of participation, and to have found an appropriate trial with the help of their health care professional.

Providing resources to help your patients make informed decisions about involvement in research promotes understanding of the benefits and risks of participation.

Being involved in a trial may benefit your patient

In many cases, being part of a clinical trial helps patients play an active role in their health care and learn more about treating and managing their condition. They will work with doctors and researchers who are experts in their disease or condition.

There is also evidence that patients taking part in clinical trials do better than others with the same disease or condition:

Better outcomes for patients treated at hospitals that participate in clinical trials (Majumdar SR, Roe MT, Peterson ED, Chen AY, Gibler WB, Armstrong PW (2008). Archives of Internal Medicine 168(6):657–662)

Do arrhythmia patients improve survival by participating in randomized clinical trials? (Hallstrom A, Friedman L, Denes P, Rizo-Patron C, Morris M; CAST Investigators; AVID Investigators (2003). Controlled Clinical Trials 24(3):341–52)

Characteristics and mortality outcomes of thrombolysis trial participants and nonparticipants: a population-based comparison. (Jha P, Deboer D, Sykora K, Naylor CD (1996). Journal of the American College of Cardiology 27:1335–1342)

Clinical trial participation tied to improved breast cancer outcomes. (Wendling P (2011) Surgery News)