Getting more volunteers for medical studies

June 30, 2009 3:56:47 PM PDT
Progress in medicine largely depends on proof that medicine or a procedure works. But getting proof or information requires a research study, and it requires people willing to participate.

The call comes from a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

People are sometimes reluctant to participate in research studies, but experts say a shift in public thinking could help get the involvement needed to quicken the pace of these breakthroughs.

Although Lynn Crawford was suffering from constant leg pain, when her doctor suggested she enroll in a medical research study about the condition, she wasn't sure that she wanted to.

"I thought about it, and I thought well I'm not going to get anything out of this," said Crawford.

Like most Americans, Lynn felt no personal obligation to participate.

Doctor Ezekiel Emanuel of the National Institutes of Health feels very strongly that that attitude needs to change. "Right now our perception is research is dangerous, you don't have to participate. If you do, you're doing something extraordinary or you're contributing to charity," says Dr. Emanuel. He adds, "Instead we have to say, it's the normal routine and if you're not participating that should become well, why aren't you participating? Do you have a good reason?"

Dr. Ezekiel says medical research is actually a public good that everyone benefits from, and that requires everyone's participation.

"You benefit from the participation of someone before, by getting safer drugs or better information about what works and what doesn't, and therefore you have an obligation to contribute to that common pool of information," adds Dr. Ezekiel.

Crawford eventually decided to join the study and saw improvement in her leg pain. She went on to enroll in two more, motivated by the impact her involvement could have for others, as well as for herself.

"I do think that this research will benefit everybody, in the future and for some of us even right now," she adds.

An estimated 16 million more people are needed annually for biomedical research. Greater participation will vastly speed up findings on new drugs and procedures with the potential to save lives.

The article suggests that study participation could increase if physicians did a better job informing their patients about appropriate studies and offering them opportunities to enroll.