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Insider insight: Understanding the public perception towards clinical trials

We often hear the public’s perception around pharma in general; some believe pharma companies care more about making money than they do about helping patients, and some feel frustrated towards the rising cost of medications. Despite the lifesaving work that pharma companies do, we rarely hear positive perceptions from the public about pharma.

But what about clinical trials? Is the perception different towards them?

Stakeholders in the clinical research space are becoming more and more interested in not only improving patient engagement in clinical trials, but engagement with the general public too. And to start improving engagement, we need to first find out the public’s current attitudes towards clinical trials.

Is public perception a barrier to trial participation?

In 2015, a poll on clinical trial public perceptions found that 41% of respondents were concerned about the risks associated with clinical research. Of those not willing to participate in a clinical research study, 43% said their reluctance came from not being willing to take a chance with their health. These misconceptions appear to be barriers to clinical trial participation.

A survey conducted in 2017 looked at both the general public and patients’ perceptions about clinical research, and the motivations and experiences of clinical trial participants. Out of 12,427 people, including the general public and patients, examples of the results showed that approximately:

  • 85% perceived clinical research to be very important to the discovery and development of new medicines

  • 90% of the public believed that clinical research is generally safe

  • 45% reported that clinical trials are rarely considered as an option when discussing treatments or medications with their physician

  • 49% of those who had previously taken part in clinical trial, expressed that their clinical trial participation disrupted their daily routine

It’s interesting that a higher percentage of people in this study had positive perceptions towards clinical trials. And for those that didn’t – it seemed to be due to clinical trials being a rare consideration during discussions with physicians, and believing clinical trials are disruptive.

Wanting to, but not knowing how

So, is it simply that the general public are receiving misinformation? Or on top of this, that they don’t have enough information about clinical trials, and know how or where to take part? The same 2017 survey found:

  • A massive 88.3% reported that they would value being informed of clinical research opportunities during their regular physician visits.

  • Only 22.9% reported that this had happened.

This demonstrates that the general public and patients are mostly willing to take part and want to know more about research opportunities. The issue seems to surround knowledge and access to the necessary information.

What can we do?

Learn, learn and learn.

Learning more about public and patient attitudes, perceptions, and past experiences in clinical research can help towards better engagement strategies.

For example, another research study explored the factors that drive patients to join a trial in the first place and their potential motivators:

  • Safety – this topped the list of priorities; 73% of people said it was very important that research does not interfere with their current treatment or make their condition worse

  • Institutional support – a valuable component was having someone available to answer questions throughout the study and their doctor’s support for their decision to participate

  • Health benefits – respondents also valued the potential of clinical trials to benefit their personal health, such as extending or improving quality of life

  • Logistics – more than half of the respondents deemed being able to complete the entire trial a top logistical concern

  • Financial benefits – while very important to some, this was generally viewed as less important than other considerations

Find out what’s motivated people to take part in clinical trials, and turn this information into action. Share it with others – be transparent about benefits, risks and past experiences. And start to think of using these insights to improve engagement. For example:

  • Bad news travels further and faster – instead, amplify the many positive messages that outweigh the negatives, and this can engage the public to think differently about clinical research

  • Improve health literacy – move from advertisements to educational materials; develop the confidence healthcare consumers need to consider clinical trials as a care option

  • Human interaction is still important – while data and technology provide big benefits, valuable information still comes from medical professionals, advocacy groups, and peers.

The key message

Interestingly, despite the public perception towards pharma often being negative, it appears that the perception towards clinical trials is generally more positive. People appear to believe in the importance of trials and would be willing to take part. We just need to improve engagement strategies, share the positives of clinical research, and help people get the information they need while being transparent about the benefits and risks.

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