Why join a clinical trial? People participate in clinical trials for many different reasons. These include trying a new treatment for a health condition or contributing to science and healthcare by participating as a healthy volunteer. There are many possible benefits to participating in a clinical trial, but there are also potential disadvantages and risks. It is important to think about what these may mean for you before deciding to take part in a clinical trial.
Benefits of participating in a clinical trial
Get access to a potential new treatment
A clinical trial can give you the opportunity to try something new before it is released to the public. This is not only relevant to participants with health conditions, but healthy volunteers too (for example, vaccine studies).
There is a chance that the new treatment will be helpful, maybe even more effective than currently available treatments. This may be especially appealing if currently available treatment options aren’t helping you.
Investigational study treatments will usually be provided at no cost to you.
Get access to medical device upgrades
If you have a medical device, such as a spinal cord stimulator or nerve stimulator, you may have the opportunity to receive an upgrade to your device that may improve its effectiveness. For example, a software update, new programming methods, hardware upgrades. These may be provided at no cost to you.
(Read more about spinal cord stimulator updates here.)
Receive high quality medical care
As a clinical trial participant, you will be cared for by a highly trained team of expert health professionals, often specialist doctors, and researchers. For longer, more involved studies, you will have regular follow-up visits with the study doctor (investigator). You will also have regular contact with the study coordinator or research nurse. They will be your main point of contact and will call you regularly to check-up on you and collect study data. They can also organise extra study visits with the investigator if required, especially if you have any concerns or issues with the study.
The medical care received as part of a clinical trial is normally provided at no cost to you.
Receive additional care
You may benefit from the additional care received as part of your participation in a trial. The care you receive may be more than you’d normally get outside of a trial. You may also receive more specialised care, depending on the trial.
For medical device trials, such as neurostimulators, you will usually have more regular visits and spend more time with the device programmer or technician than you would normally. This is to ensure the device is working properly and that the therapy is optimised, which may lead to better health outcomes.
Play a more active role in your own health care
Participating in a clinical trial gives you the opportunity to expand your treatment options. You could learn more about managing your condition.
Many trials will require you to have tests and examinations, such as blood tests and medical imaging (scans), before and during the trial. The results will often be shared with you and your personal doctor (if you agree). You may even learn more about your own condition or general health.
The chance to contribute to science and help others
You will get the chance to be part of a research study that could end up improving the lives of others. Even if the treatment doesn’t work for you, it may still help others. Whatever the outcome, your participation contributes to providing valuable information for science and healthcare. The information gained may help us better understand health conditions and develop new treatments or improve existing ones.
Risks of participating in a clinical trial
Clinical trials involving new treatments must follow strict government regulations and ethical guidelines. All trials are reviewed by an ethics committee before they can start enrolling people. This is to ensure that the rights, safety, and wellbeing of the study participants will be protected, and that the research meets high scientific and quality standards.
As part of the ethical review process, the potential benefits of a trial will be weighed against the risks. Potential disadvantages or risks may include:
- The study treatment may not work for you.
- You may experience side effects related to the study treatment or procedures.
- You may have to stop your regular medications or other treatments during the study.
- You may have to visit the study site often and some visits may be quite long.
The specific benefits and risks will be detailed in the participant information sheet and consent form that you receive before deciding to join a clinical trial. It is important that you take the time to read the study information and discuss the study with your doctor(s), family, carer, and/or friends where relevant.
If you have any questions or concerns about a trial, you should discuss them with the study doctor or coordinator.
References & Resources:
1. Australian Clinical Trials. “For consumers”. Updated 24 May 2018. https://www.australianclinicaltrials.gov.au/consumers
2. NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Clinical Trials: Benefits, Risks, and Safety Measures”. Updated 24 Mar 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/research/clinical-trials/safety-benefits-risks
3. NIH: National Institute on Aging. “Clinical Trials: Benefits, Risks, and Safety”. Reviewed 17 May 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/clinical-trials-benefits-risks-and-safety
4. Novitzke JM. “The significance of clinical trials”. J Vasc Interv Neurol. 2008; 1(1): 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3317309/