What Are Clinical Trials?
Clinical trials are the way we test new drugs and treatments for safety and effectiveness before they become available for everyone. If you have a health problem that doesn't respond to any of the current treatments, you might want to see if there's any thing else being tested that might help you. Sometimes you can get really expensive treatments for free, and they might even save your life.
How Do You Find Them?
Always ask your doctor if he knows about any and whether he thinks they would be appropriate. This week the National Institutes of Health started a comprehensive Web site that provides information on clinical trials underway here and overseas for all different kinds of treatments and drugs for all different kinds of problems. It contains over 4,000 studies underway at universities and government centers and will soon begin to list those run by pharmacuetical companies.
There are many different requirements for entering these trials. For some, you must fit certain age, sex and medical history requirements. For many serious conditions the requirement is often that you have tried all other approved options unsuccessfully.
Generally these are not risky trials, but you have to be proactive before you get involved. Here are some questions you should ask:
- Why is the research being done?
Find out how it compares to standard treatments and why the doctors think it will work. Determine your options.
- What are the risks?
There are three different phases in testing new treatments, and the first phase is to test safety, phase two is to see whether it works, and phase three is the stage where it can be compared to other treatments or compared to a placebo. The risk in early phases is that no one can predict what the side effects will be, and in the later phases you might not get any treatment at all.
- Who will pay for the care?
Not only the treatment itself, but other costs you might not think about... How much travel and how many visits do you have to make, how much follow-up care will there be?
- Is the information confidential?
An important point to check before you start. If it's not confidential, then who gets to see it. Will the results become part of your medical records? Also check to see if your doctor gets paid for enrolling you.
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