Clinical trials are the engine of medical breakthroughs. They enable researchers to understand how the human body and mind respond to new approaches for improving health. Clinical trials make the abstract concrete; they’re the difference between imagining something and doing it.

Every year, more than 10,000 clinical trials are conducted in the United States involving roughly three million participants. Participants are vital to the company or institution knowing whether their idea will work. But what should you consider before joining a study? How do you balance the risk and reward?

What are the downsides?

Trials can ask a lot from people. You’ll be asked to sign an Informed Consent Form, verifying that you understand the trial’s expectations of you and potential risks. Since the trial’s goal will be to determine the efficacy and safety of a drug, device, or therapy, there is the possibility of harm. Risks to consider may include:

Not choosing your treatment: Randomized trials are what they sound like. Usually, participants are randomly assigned to a specific treatment, either the drug that’s being tested, a standard treatment, or a placebo (an inactive therapy). In a randomized double-blinded trial, the doctors also wouldn’t know which treatment is being assigned.

The treatment may not work for you: It may be that the treatment benefits some participants, but not you, and that it isn’t as effective as your current therapy. There may also be unexpected side effects.

What role your insurance will play: While clinical trial treatments are often offered free of cost to participants, be sure to talk to both your insurance company and the trial coordinator before enrolling in a trial. Doing so will make sure you’re made aware of any financial implications, if any exist.

Less control over your schedule: Most trials call for close monitoring of participants. You must be willing to commit to the ongoing time commitment of participating in a trial, whether that’s going to the doctor’s office or getting routine lab work done. 

What are the upsides?

Trials exist because someone has developed a treatment they believe can provide better treatment than existing options on the market (or, in some cases, can provide treatment where one does not yet exist). Some upsides of participating in a trial include:

Early access to treatment: You will be an early adopter of an experimental therapy. If it’s effective, you will have access to a successful treatment months or years ahead of its release.

Treatment from experts: Trial research teams often include top doctors and scientists who work closely with you. They will pay careful attention to your progress and be prepared to deal with any side effects.

Free or low-cost treatment: Trials may pay for your treatment, medical care, travel, and other expenses related to the study. Trials may also pay for your participation, and may compensate you with a nominal day rate. 

You might change lives: If your trial participation produces positive results, that can ultimately help bring to market a medical solution that will better the health of untold numbers of people with the same condition. 

Activating your care: Participating in a trial is a step toward taking action where your health is concerned. For anyone feeling frustrated about not being able to do more, trial participation can be empowering. 

Participating in a clinical trial is an important decision. Giving it some thought will help make you feel confident about what’s next in your health journey.

This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.

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