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6: If someone has a condition that is being studied in an ongoing clinical trial, how do they find out about this if their doctor doesn’t know about it?

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Fewer than one in 100 people seeing a doctor will be enrolled in a clinical trial. The proportion varies widely by condition and setting.

Even within cancer centres – where trials are widely accepted and used – the range is enormous: most children with cancer are enrolled in trials, but fewer than one in ten adults are. Most trial enrolment depends on the centre a patient is attending: if the centre is not involved in the trial then they won’t be able to enrol patients.

So patients might need to look for a centre that is involved in clinical trials. There are a few community-based trials where patients can enrol directly; for example, these often occur in research designed to find out how to help people with mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. More recently, some other trials have enrolled people directly through the internet.

For example, a recent study to assess the effects of stretching before exercise enrolled all participants in this way: they never attended a clinic, but received all their instructions and follow-up over the internet.

If their doctors seem reluctant to enrol patients in trials, patients should find out why. It may be that the patient is not really eligible, for example. However, it may be simply that the doctor is put off by the extra work imposed by the burdensome regulatory demands. Patients who believe that they are likely to be eligible for participation in ongoing trials should persist. If a suitable trial is known to exist and a patient makes it clear that they are keen to be enrolled, doctors should support this.

Next7: What’s the best way of telling if the evidence (on the web or elsewhere) is reliable?