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Frequently asked questions

Review a list of common questions about clinical trials and research.

What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial (also clinical research) is a research study in human volunteers to answer specific health questions. Carefully conducted clinical trials are the fastest and safest way to find treatments that work in people and ways to improve health. Interventional trials determine whether experimental treatments or new ways of using known therapies are safe and effective under controlled environments. Observational trials address health issues in large groups of people or populations in natural settings.

What are the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial?

--Benefits - Clinical trials that are well-designed and well-executed are the best approach for eligible participants to:

  • Play an active role in their own healthcare.
  • Gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available.
  • Obtain expert medical care at leading healthcare facilities during the trial.
  • Help others by contributing to medical research.

--Risks - There are risks to clinical trials:

  • There may be unpleasant, serious or even life-threatening side effects to experimental treatment.
  • The experimental treatment may not be effective for the participant.
  • The protocol may require more of their time and attention than would a non-protocol treatment, including trips to the study site, more treatments, hospital stays or complex dosage requirements.
What happens during a clinical trial?

The clinical trial process depends on the kind of trial being conducted. The clinical trial team includes doctors and nurses as well as social workers and other healthcare professionals. They check the health of the participant at the beginning of the trial, give specific instructions for participating in the trial, monitor the participant carefully during the trial and stay in touch after the trial is completed.

Some clinical trials involve more tests and doctor visits than the participant would normally have for an illness or condition. For all types of trials, the participant works with a research team. Clinical trial participation is most successful when the protocol is carefully followed and there is frequent contact with the research staff.

How is the safety of the participant protected?

The ethical and legal codes that govern medical practice also apply to clinical trials. In addition, most clinical research is federally regulated with built-in safeguards to protect the participants. The trial follows a carefully controlled protocol, a study plan that details what researchers will do in the study. As a clinical trial progresses, researchers report the results of the trial at scientific meetings, to medical journals and to various government agencies. Individual participants' names will remain secret and will not be mentioned in these reports.

What should people consider before participating in a trial?

People should know as much as possible about the clinical trial and feel comfortable asking the members of the healthcare team questions about it, the care expected while in a trial and the cost of the trial. The following questions might be helpful for the participant to discuss with the healthcare team. Some of the answers to these questions are found in the informed consent document.

  • What is the purpose of the study?
  • Who is going to be in the study?
  • Why do researchers believe the experimental treatment being tested may be effective? Has it been tested before?
  • What kinds of tests and experimental treatments are involved?
  • How do the possible risks, side effects and benefits in the study compare with my current treatment?
  • How might this trial affect my daily life?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Will hospitalization be required?
  • Who will pay for the experimental treatment?
  • Will I be reimbursed for other expenses?
  • What type of long-term follow up care is part of this study?
  • How will I know that the experimental treatment is working? Will results of the trials be provided to me?
  • Who will be in charge of my care?

For more information about clinical trials, please visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.