What do Americans think about clinical trials? The question might come to mind when a study is struggling to meet recruitment requirements, when a fictionalized account of research doesn’t quite get it right, or when someone’s eyes glaze at the description of the latest study under review. For some answers, check out a webinar held by the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI). In the webinar, Mary Woolley, President of Research!America discusses the results of a survey conducted by her organization in collaboration with CTTI , and the information there could suggest ways for researchers to reach more participants, to change attitudes about clinical trials, or simply to engage a distracted party guest.
One interesting conclusion from the survey is that plenty of people know about clinical trials, but they are not interested in participating. In the survey, 80 percent of the responders knew they could volunteer for clinical research. Most had heard about clinical trials through the Internet, through other media reports, or through advertisements. But only 16 percent ever had volunteered for a study, or knew of a family member who had volunteered (This 16 percent figure is larger than the public at large. Generally, less than 10 percent of Americans have participated). When asked why they would not volunteer for a trial, most people answered that they did not trust the trial, or that it seemed too risky.
And the survey responders did have very high opinions of those who did sign up. Over two-thirds of the survey responders thought that getting paid was a top reason for people to enroll in a trial. When asked about organ and blood donors, over 60 percent of the people surveyed said they admired those volunteers “a great deal.” When asked about clinical trial volunteers, however, only 37 percent of the people had the same level of admiration. When another question asked if volunteering for a clinical trial was as valuable as donating blood, only 21 percent agreed.
And what might convince people to volunteer for a study? Other survey answers presented an interesting possibility: primary care physicians. More people would consider participation in a clinical trial if their doctor told them about it. While less than a quarter of those surveyed had heard about clinical trials from their doctors, most said they likely would participate if a primary physician suggested it.
This has some intriguing implications. Patients trust their doctors, and doctors can share important information about clinical trials. Asking physicians to publicize research is nothing new— it is common enough for “Dear Doctor” letters to notify the medical community about clinical trials—and it is not a strategy without problems. For one, doctors’ offices already have plenty to do without helping find trial volunteers. For another, recruiting from a doctor’s office could reinforce a misperception that research is the same as regular health care. But still, new, appropriate ways to leverage that avenue of communication could encourage enrollment, while current efforts to share information seem to fall short. While enough people may hear about trials, not enough enroll. As one of the webinar participants noted, “We seem to be stuck here, as a community.” Information such as this survey data might inspire ideas that can get us moving.
View the CTTI webinar – it presents a wealth of information about attitudes toward clinical trials.