My experiences of recruiting participants for a clinical trial

By Sigurd Melbye
Friday, 6th April 2018
Filed under: ESRBlog

For my PhD, I am conducting (or at least trying to conduct) a clinical trial. That means I am seeing actual patients. Together with my supervisor, I have set an ambitious goal to gather 400 participants. 400 participants in 3 years, seems fair doesn’t it.  But believe me, there is more to it.

First I have to decide what kind of participants I want.  Is there a specific group of patients?  What are the inclusion criteria? And exclusion criteria?  And if I want a group of controls, I have to define the same criteria for them.  I decided to include bipolar patients, patients with depression, healthy controls, and healthy relatives. All of them in the age group 15-25.

Now I have to find out how to get in contact with potential participants. There is lots of people out there who meets the given criteria, but due to the standard Danish regulations, they have to be asked by one of their clinicians if they could be interested, in order for me to talk to them. That means I have to visit several clinics around the Copenhagen area, and convince doctors and psychologists to tell their patients about my project. I often only have 5-10 minutes, and it takes some practice to present my project in an efficient and interesting way, so that the listeners want to go back to their clinics and help me recruit.

By this time, hopefully, I have a list of potential participants that I can call. But there are still some important issues that I have to take into consideration. Half of my participants are under the age of majority, and therefore I have to call the parents of the potential participants. It’s really important that I inform everyone about all the aspects of the project, and how this will affect them as participants of the project. On the other hand I don’t want it to sound too overwhelming, and scare them away from taking part. Balance is everything. As I finally roll them in, I get their informed consent. But still, only half of the job is done.

As many of my colleagues and I are certified health workers, we also have a responsibility concerning our participants. Examples of that can be making sure suicidal patients get taken care of, responding to test results that need attention and contact the participants’ doctor if needed.

But despite all of this, I really enjoy meeting all of the participants. Every interview is interesting and different from the other. Every participant has their own story, their own way of describing symptoms and their own way of taking part in the project. So even though there are lots of time carrying out administration and worrying about not getting enough participants, I glad I chose to do a clinical trial. For me, it’s the close contact with the participant that makes every day at work interesting, and hopefully it will result in some interesting study results.

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