The Anatomy of an Ideal Clinical Trial Patient

A good candidate is interested and altruistic

Clinical trials require time and energy of those who enroll. Many are repelled by these requirements. Others, however, have personal interests that make them enthusiastic about participating. Some are passionate about medical science, and enchanted by the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of advancements in disease treatment. Some are also motivated by altruism: they understand the role of clinical research in creating new possibilities for people who haven’t found success with existing treatments.

A good candidate is media-savvy

There are numerous avenues through which recruitment efforts can reach potential patients. They include outreach through traditional media such as television, radio, or newspapers; more modern approaches such as social media; information from doctors, who can recommend patients participate in trials as a treatment option1; and others. The more of these avenues a potential recruit is exposed to, the higher the chance that person will enroll.

A good candidate has the right kind, and amount, of incentive

In Phase I trials, which largely employ healthy volunteers, patients tend to have little reason to participate other than financial incentive, which is often insufficient to overcome the absence of medical necessity. Other patients, such as those in early-phase oncology trials, have diseases that are often already too advanced by the time the trial begins. These patients may have timeline needs that are incompatible with long dosage intervals and other aspects of clinical trials. Recruiters may find more success in the middle: among populations who have the disease in question, but not so severely that they can’t afford to explore an experimental treatment. These people can be incentivized by more than just payment, yet be free of the urgency that keeps many patients from being open to clinical trials.

A good candidate has comprehensive medical insurance

Many are reluctant to participate in clinical research due to uncertainty over insurance coverage. Indeed, some plans don’t cover clinical trials2. A strong candidate has strong insurance. But this paradigm poses a challenge. As insurance quality often corresponds to income level, it can be harder to enroll lower-income patients. This is counterproductive to enrolling a diverse body of participants. Since 2014, the federal health care law has required new plans to cover trial participation3 – the coming years should show how much this requirement affects enrollment levels.

It can take a precise mix of personal interest and circumstance to make someone truly enthusiastic about participating in a trial. It is the navigation of patient populations, through analysis of the traits above and others, that makes patient recruitment a science in its own right.