Thinking of a Clinical Trial? What You Need to Know

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Today it is hard to find a medical news story without mention of a clinical trial. What exactly is a clinical trial? A clinical trial is a research study that involves human participants in order to answer specific health questions.

Who can participate in a clinical trial? Can you? A relative? A friend? It all depends. There are guidelines spelled out ahead of time as to who will be eligible to enter a specific clinical trial. A participant must qualify and then be enrolled in the trial.

To participate in a clinical trial, the individual must do so voluntarily, have the trial explained in detail to them and give their informed consent to participate. Clinical trials are never conducted without the knowledge and agreement of those taking part.

Different types of clinical trials are designed to address different questions. Most clinical trials fall into the following categories:

  • Treatment trials -- to test new drugs, combinations of drugs, or new procedures and approaches to treating a particular condition.
  • Prevention trials -- to study methods in which one can prevent disease from developing.
  • Diagnostic trials -- to look for improved tests to diagnose a specific condition.
  • Screening trials -- to look for the best ways to test a population for the incidence of a specific disease.
  • Quality of life trials -- to find ways to increase and improve the quality of life for patients with a chronic or progressive disease.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014