Developing new medicines relies on the successful conduct of clinical trials. As trial protocols become more arduous, it becomes harder to recruit and retain patient volunteers, although recent efforts such as OMERACT and I-SPY2 show that partnering with patients can be beneficial. We sought to describe drivers and barriers to trial participation, as well as condition-specific trial preferences.
An online survey was fielded via the patient-powered research network PatientsLikeMe to 1,621 members living with nine selected chronic health conditions. Questions included demographics, trial experience, reasons for non-participation, questions relating to aspects of trial design, and an adaptation of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) for trial satisfaction.
Mean age of respondents was 55 years; most patients were white (93%), female (67%), and living in the United States (72%). Primary conditions were MS (21%), Parkinson's (20%), fibromyalgia (15%), ALS (10%), type 2 diabetes (10%), rheumatoid arthritis (RA, 8%), epilepsy (8%), major depressive disorder (MDD, 5%) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, 3%). Most patients had not discussed a trial with their physician and only 21% had ever enrolled, with rates highest in ALS (36%), Parkinson's disease (36%) and MS (20%) and lowest among SLE (9%), MDD (11%) and Fibromyalgia (11%). Common reasons for non-participation were eligibility criteria, inconvenience of travel and concerns about side effects. NPS suggested that many patients were unsatisfied; patients with lupus, epilepsy, RA, and fibromyalgia reported negative scores, i.e. they would dissuade other patients like them from taking part in trials. The most important considerations in trial participation were the opportunity to improve one's own health and that of others, the reputation of the institution, and having medical bills covered in case of injury. Least important were remuneration and possibility of receiving a placebo. ALS patients were more willing to tolerate undesirable aspects of trials.
Most patients are willing to enroll yet very few are invited. When they do, trial participation is often burdensome, but patients are willing to help improve their design. Researchers should let patients help design better trials to overcome recruitment and retention issues and hasten the development of new medicines.