Research teams are constantly conducting clinical trials to evaluate new medical treatments, drugs, and devices. For these studies to occur and gather data to advance medicine, participants are needed. Here’s how to research clinical trials to find ones that may be a good match for you as a potential participant.
How to Find Clinical Trials
Finding clinical trials that may be relevant or interesting to you is not as difficult as many people think. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, you can ask your doctor about whether you are a good candidate. However, many people also like to do their own research, and one good place to start in your own research is simply by searching the internet for clinical trials related to the condition you are interested in.
Online Matching Services
Some prospective clinical trials participants may elect to use third-party search and matching services provided by independent companies who are typically searching for participants on behalf of the clinical trial sponsors.
Depending on how broadly these companies source studies, they may offer curated, up-to-date study information. Moreover, some of these companies—such as TrialSearch.com—include other services such as phone support with trained personnel to help answer questions.
ClinicalTrials.gov: Huge Database with Accuracy Drawbacks
One resource you will inevitably encounter when researching clinical trials online is ClinicalTrials.gov, maintained by the National Institutes of Health.1 This site lists many research studies and allows you to filter search results by condition or disease, the country where the study is being conducted, or other terms such as a drug name.1
Though the ClinicalTrials.gov government database is broad and powerful, there are limitations to searching studies on this portal. Researchers have noted data quality issues with listings on the site.2 Many studies are not updated in a timely manner through the different steps,3 which can lead to frustration on the part of someone searching for current, accurate information about a study’s status.
Enrolling in a Clinical Trial
If you have identified a potential clinical trial that could be a match, know that there are a number of steps to ensure that you are a good candidate for a particular study. You should also expect to go through some required steps in the enrollment process to ensure that you fully understand and consent to the trial.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
When searching for clinical trials, pay close attention to the eligibility criteria, which are guidelines that researchers use to determine who can participate.4 You can talk to your doctor or the study site to find out if you might qualify for a particular trial. It also helps to review the trial description and plan of action, called a study protocol, to know if you are a likely candidate.
What to Know Before Enrolling
Before enrolling in a clinical trial, prospective participants must understand certain information about the study.3 This includes knowing the purpose of the research, each step in the enrollment and trial process, and the expected length of time their participation will require. Researchers also must describe all experimental procedures that the trial will involve, as well as potential benefits, risks, discomforts, or personal expenses that participants may incur.
Study participants must be assured that their participation in the trial is entirely voluntary and that they may withdraw at any time without penalty.3 The researchers must guarantee participants that their participation will be kept confidential, along with any findings that may be discovered as a direct result of their involvement. Those in a study also are entitled to know approximately how many other participants will be enrolled in the trial, and how the findings will be shared with them when the research is complete.
Informed Consent: Understanding the Details of a Clinical Trial for Participants
“Informed consent” is a defined process of explaining the purpose of the research to prospective study participants, what their role will be, and how the trial will work.5 (Learn more about how informed consent fits into the research process on our How Do Clinical Trials Work? page.) In order to provide informed consent, participants must understand the potential benefits and risks of participation, as well as how the study process will differ from the medical care they are used to receiving. Specific elements of informed consent include telling prospective participants exactly what they will be expected to do or have done to them, the number and timing of clinic visits, and what risks or discomfort they may experience.
Prospective clinical trial participants should have the chance to discuss the protocol with medical personnel, family, and friends and to ask whatever questions they may have.3 You must sign an informed consent form to verify your willingness to participate in a clinical trial. Throughout the trial, the research team is obligated to provide participants with updates as the situation requires. You may then need to sign a new or updated consent form.
Important Questions to Ask Before Enrolling in a Clinical Trial
The informed consent process is the best time for you to pose any questions to the investigational team running the clinical study.1 Examples of questions you may want clarified during the informed consent process include:
- How will decisions be made about which intervention each participant will receive?
- What tests and procedures will be performed during the trial?
- How often will participants need to visit the research facility? Will hospitalization be required?
- Can some of the procedures be performed remotely, such as by video chat?
- Will participants be paid for participation? Will expenses related to participation be reimbursed?
- If the trial intervention is beneficial, can participants continue receiving it after the study ends?
Participation in clinical research as a study participant is an important decision with many factors to consider. Prospective participants can and should be fully informed before agreeing to participate in research studies.