Clinical trials are nothing new when it comes to health and medicine, yet they’re something many Aussies won’t talk about – and certainly wouldn’t expect to benefit their overall wellbeing.
In simple terms, clinical trials ensure new medical treatments and tests are safe, effective and improve the overall quality of life for the thousands of people who will eventually take the medication on a regular basis. Trials are fundamental to improving medicine because researchers and scientists never know if a new innovation is going to work.
Each year, more than 1,000 new trials begin in Australia, with as many as 86 per cent of people agreeing that they contribute to the advancement of health care and 82 per cent of people saying they improve overall health.
“Clinical trials are essential for advancing our knowledge about what’s better in health care,” Paul Glasziou, professor of evidence-based medicine at Bond University told Starts at 60. “You probably get better care in a clinical trial. You get people who are providing the best, current standard care, you get full monitoring, you may get access to things you wouldn’t have available through other means than doing the clinical trial. Generally, you’re probably better off being in a trial than not being in a trial.”
Participants are actually highly sought after for the many trials taking place around the country. While most trials focus on cancer and cancer treatments, it isn’t just drugs that are tested on patients.
In fact, an array of trials test for surgery or compare different diets, while there are thousands of physiotherapy ones in process. Others don’t test a new drug as such, but assess the appropriate levels of dosage of medication. While there are different designs for different purposes, the common goal with all trials is to compare two arms and see which, if any, is more effective.
After cancer, heart disease is also common for clinical trials, where researchers test new drugs, diets and relevant procedures. Australians can check out Trials Registry for information on current ones taking place, although it’s best to touch base with a health professional to verify the legitimacy of an advertised trial.
“Most sign-ups will occur through a health professional, particularly in secondary care, but the proportion of people signing up to trials differs a lot,” Glasziou said. “For most areas of medicine [other than cancer] there’s a lot fewer clinical trials you may be offered. Sometimes you’ll see clinical trials advertised through the newspapers.”
Baby Boomers also make up the bulk of clinical trial participants in Australia, because they, along with early age groups, experience the greatest burden of disease.
If you do choose to get involved in a trial, it’s important to ask questions, be aware of side effects and talk over the process with your health care professional. It’s also important to note that you can opt out if you experience an adverse effect to treatment, although researchers will usually recommend they keep monitoring you to help the outcomes of the trial.
Find out more about clinical trials at australianclinicaltrials.gov.au.