One of the biggest challenges for clinical research is patient enrollment. The discovery of new therapies and better treatment options is highly dependent on the number of patients participating in clinical trials. However, a recent survey showed that only 35% of Americans indicated that they were “likely” to enroll in a clinical trial. Additionally, only 40% of Americans have a positive overall impression of clinical trials.


While nearly every advancement in cancer treatment today was first evaluated in a clinical trial, studies have shown that only 4% of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials each year. Given that clinical trials are essential for FDA approval of new drugs and treatment options, there is a strong need to improve public perception of clinical trials.


Why don’t more people participate in clinical trials?

Lack of awareness and fear

Studies have shown that only 1 out of 3 Americans knows about clinical trials. People simply don’t talk about clinical trials in their day-to-day conversations and if the topic of trials is brought up, it is often met with apprehension and fear of being experimented on. Common concerns include fear of possible side effects, uncertainty if a new treatment can actually help them, and potentially receiving a placebo instead of the actual treatment.

Fortunately, to combat the fear of the unknown, the same survey also showed that patient education about clinical trials makes a measurable difference in improving perceptions about clinical trials. “After reading a brief statement defining clinical trials, the number of respondents who had a positive impression about these studies jumped significantly, from 40 to 60 percent.”

Don’t think they qualify and inconveniences

Many people don’t consider enrolling because clinical trials often have strict inclusion/exclusion criteria. Sometimes there is confusion about insurance coverage and whether insurance covers the study and pays for the treatment. The majority of patients (as high as 80%) rely on their physician’s recommendation as a key factor in deciding to participate in clinical trials. Moreover, participating in trials can be time-consuming and may require multiple visits, which would deter patients who are less motivated for follow-through.


Why do people participate in clinical trials?

Help advance medical knowledge and help others

Outcomes in clinical trials can help us better prevent, detect, diagnose, control, and treat illnesses. Helping to develop new treatments could aid thousands and move us one step closer to cures. Recall earlier we mentioned that nearly every advancement in cancer treatment today was first evaluated in a clinical trial – participation in trials is critical for scientific advancements in treating almost all diseases.

Access to new treatments

The idea of receiving the latest treatment or drug before it’s widely available can be an exciting opportunity, especially in some cases where there are no current treatments available or you have run out of options. Clinical trials offer patients the opportunity to receive potentially better treatment options than what is available in the current market. Moreover, when making treatment decisions, 89% of respondents said that the opportunity to possibly improve their own health is an important deciding factor to participate in a clinical trial.


For some, participation in clinical trials has financial benefits. It is an opportunity to earn extra money, while helping advance medical research. In a study, 78% of people said that whether they would be paid is an important factor in the decision to participate in clinical trials.


Participating in a clinical trial is an intensely personal decision and the stakes differ for each person. In order to encourage more patients to join studies, we must demystify the clinical trial process and assuage the fears of the patients.