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We Need to Talk About Clinical Trials

Ever discussed the possibility of a clinical trial with your physician? If your answer is “no,” you’re far from alone. 

Yet that conversation could be crucial to raising awareness and ending the trend of under-enrolled clinical trials. About 37 percent of clinical trials sites can’t meet their enrollment goals, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. That lack of participation stymies the development of cures and treatments that so many patients need.

What doctors can do

Physicians like me are eager to be part of the solution. But for some, fitting in a conversation about clinical trials hardly seems possible between diagnosing patients, ordering tests and interpreting results, prescribing and monitoring patients’ responses to medications. And it’s not just the time constraints.  

Outside of academic research facilities, many physicians may not be abreast of the latest trial opportunities. And primary care physicians who deal with a range of conditions face the virtually impossible task of aligning a patient with the appropriate trial.

Yet, somehow, this conversation must happen. Maybe it means featuring clinical trials information on waiting room bulletin boards. Perhaps we use electronic patient portals to direct patients to trial finder apps. At the very least, convey that clinical trials exist, that participation is an option, that enrolling could be a gift to patients like themselves.

A social movement

But physicians alone cannot turn the tide. Clinical trials deserve a much larger, more coordinated and multi-prong approach, powered by federal funding. Consider the Donate Life effort of several decades ago as an apt model. A full-scale campaign that marries television, social media, celebrity endorsements, educational materials and consensus among policymakers — that could push clinical trials awareness to its tipping point.

But, for now, it might just begin with one physician and one patient, together in a clinic discussing how a clinical trial might change that patient’s life — and the lives of many others.

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