Clinical Trial Benefits, Risks & Safety Considerations

Learn about clinical trial benefits, risks, and safety considerations. Discover the advantages and disadvantages of participating in a clinical trial.

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Written by Kate Byrd, PharmD

Published 20 December 2023

Clinical trials are a key part of advancing healthcare. They're used to test new drugs, treatments, and medical devices to see if they're safe and effective. However, deciding to take part in one isn't a decision to be made lightly.

Whether you're considering joining a clinical trial or just curious about how they work, this guide will break down the potential benefits, risks, and how experts make sure everyone stays as safe as possible during the process.

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Importance of clinical trials

Clinical trials play a crucial role in the advancement of medical science. They are the bridge between the laboratory and the patient's bedside, taking discoveries from the test tube to real-world application. Trials test out new drugs, therapies, and medical devices, ensuring that they're not just effective but safe too.

By volunteering for clinical trials, participants help to shape the future of healthcare, potentially unlocking breakthroughs that could benefit many people.

What are the benefits of a clinical trial?

Clinical trials are not just about contributing to the advancement of medicine; there are also personal benefits that may come from participating.

From gaining access to cutting-edge treatments and increased medical attention, to potentially improving one's health or the health of others, these benefits could be worth considering for many individuals thinking about participating in a clinical trial.

Access to the latest therapies

One of the key benefits of participating in a clinical trial is the opportunity to gain access to the latest therapies before they become widely available. These could be innovative drugs, new applications of existing treatments, or groundbreaking medical devices.

For individuals with conditions that haven't responded well to conventional treatment options or patients with conditions that have limited treatment options, clinical trials can provide hope and access to potentially life-changing therapies. However, it's important to remember that while these therapies are promising, they're still in the testing phase,and there's no guarantee of their effectiveness.

Playing a more active role in your own health care

As a participant in a clinical trial, you become an active participant in the advancement of medical treatments. Instead of solely relying on conventional treatment options, you have the opportunity to explore innovative therapies and contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge.

By actively participating in the trial, you gain a deeper understanding of your health condition and the potential treatment options available. This increased involvement empowers you to make informed decisions about your healthcare, collaborate with healthcare professionals, and potentially achieve better health outcomes.

Closer monitoring of health

Participating in a clinical trial also means receiving closer and more frequent monitoring of your health. This involves regular check-ups, tests, and medical evaluations that are typically more thorough than what you might experience in standard healthcare.

This enhanced level of care not only helps keep you safe during the trial, but it can also provide valuable insights into your health, potentially leading to better long-term management of your condition.

A chance to help others

In addition to personal benefits, participation in a clinical trial offers the profound opportunity to contribute to the well-being of others. By volunteering for clinical trials, participants play a direct role in the advancement of medicine, paving the way for new treatments, cures, and increased understanding of various health conditions.

The knowledge gained from these trials can help shape future healthcare, potentially benefiting countless individuals in the years to come. This chance to help others - perhaps even future generations - can provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction that extends far beyond the individual benefits of participating in a clinical trial.

Benefits to science and future health care

Every clinical trial contributes valuable data to our collective understanding of diseases and their treatment. Clinical trials help scientists confirm whether a potential new treatment is safe, effective, and better than current treatments.

They can also lead to discoveries about side effects, interactions with other drugs, and insights into how different people may respond to a treatment.

Potential for more effective treatments

Clinical trials serve as the birthplace for more effective treatments and advancements in medical science. As a participant, you could be among the first to benefit from a new treatment that may prove to be more effective than current options.

This is particularly significant for those with conditions that are not adequately managed by existing therapies. However, it's important to bear in mind that these are still experimental treatments being tested for their effectiveness. While they hold promise, there's also a possibility that they may not work as expected or may have unforeseen side effects.

Reduced health care costs

Joining a clinical trial can often lead to reduced healthcare costs for participants. This happens because the medical treatment under study, along with the additional doctor visits, lab tests, and any other required procedures, are typically covered by the trial sponsor.

In many cases, this can offset a significant amount of the medical expenses that participants would otherwise have to cover out-of-pocket. However, it's crucial to understand the specific terms of each trial, as coverage can vary, and some trials may not cover all associated costs.

A chance to earn extra income

While not typically the primary motivation, it's worth noting that participation in some clinical trials can provide an opportunity to earn extra income. Trial sponsors sometimes offer compensation for time and travel to participants.

The amount and method of compensation can vary widely between trials, so it's important to understand the details upfront. While the income can be a helpful perk, it should be weighed against the potential risks and time commitment that participation in a clinical trial entails.

What are the potential risks of a clinical trial?

While clinical trials offer many benefits, it's also crucial to understand the potential risks associated with participation. As these trials involve experimental treatments, there may be uncertainties and potential downsides that need to be considered.

Potential side effects

One of the most significant risks of participating in a clinical trial is the potential for side effects. Because the treatments being tested are often new, their side effects may not be known at the outset of the trial. These side effects could range from mild and temporary discomforts to more serious or long-lasting complications.

It's also important to remember that side effects may not be limited to physical symptoms; they could also include emotional or psychological impacts, especially when the results of the treatment are uncertain.

Ineffectiveness of the clinical trial

Another potential risk associated with clinical trials is the possibility that the new treatment may not work or might not be as effective as standard treatments. Because these treatments are still in the experimental phase, their efficacy isn't fully guaranteed.

In some cases, the treatment might not work at all for certain participants, or it could even make their condition worse.

Being placed in a control group

In many trials, participants are randomly assigned to either a treatment group that receives the experimental treatment, a control group that receives a standard treatment, or a placebo - a substance with no active therapeutic effect. This is done to compare the effectiveness of the new treatment against the current standard or against no treatment.

If you’re assigned to the control group, you may not receive the experimental treatment that is being tested. Although the control group is critical for obtaining reliable results, it might be disappointing if you were hoping to access a new treatment through the trial.

Should I be worried about the placebo?

If assigned to a placebo group in a clinical trial, you will receive a substance that looks like the experimental treatment but contains no active ingredients. The purpose of this is to compare the effects of the new treatment with those of a non-active substance.

It's important to understand that placebos are typically used in a very ethical and careful manner. In studies where withholding treatment could be harmful, a placebo is usually not used. Moreover, if the experimental treatment shows significant benefits during the trial, it is often made available to placebo group participants as well.

Developing false hope

Participation in a clinical trial sometimes brings with it the risk of 'false hope'. Given that clinical trials often test new and promising treatments, participants might enter a trial with high expectations of experiencing a cure or significant improvement in their condition.

While optimism can be beneficial, it's important to understand that not all experimental treatments will be successful, and some may not work better than the existing standard treatments.

It could be very time consuming

Participating in a clinical trial may require multiple visits to the study site or even hospital stays. You may also be asked to maintain a diary, collect urine samples for 24 hours, undergo additional tests, make frequent hospital visits, or follow complex medication regimens.

These various requirements can make the participation process more time-consuming and may necessitate travel and adjustments to your daily routine.

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Read more about how time consuming clinical trials may be in our detailed guide.

How Long Do Clinical Trials Take? Understanding Clinical Trial Timelines

There could be additional costs

These can include travel expenses, accommodation, and sometimes even specific tests or medications that are not covered by the trial. It's crucial to fully understand the financial implications of participating in a trial before making a decision.

Discussing the potential costs with the trial coordinator and considering your personal financial situation can help you evaluate whether you can comfortably manage any additional expenses that may arise.

Risks and benefits of decentralized clinical trials

Decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) offer a different approach compared to traditional clinical trials by utilizing remote methods for participant recruitment and study visits. With DCTs, participants have the convenience of completing study tasks from the comfort of their own homes.

This approach brings several potential advantages over traditional trials. However, it is important to note that DCTs are not without their own set of potential risks, just like any other clinical trial.

Advantages of decentralized clinical trials

Decentralized clinical trials offer notable advantages over traditional clinical trials, prioritizing patient-centered approaches and leveraging advanced technologies to lower barriers to participation.

By eliminating the need for travel to clinical sites, participants can save time and maintain their daily routines uninterrupted. This accessibility aspect is particularly beneficial for patients residing far from study sites or facing health or logistical challenges.

Furthermore, decentralized trials enable data collection in real-world settings, providing a more realistic representation of the treatment or intervention's effectiveness in everyday life.

Disadvantages of decentralized clinical trials

Participants in decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) may encounter technical difficulties when completing study tasks remotely, such as issues with internet connectivity or problems with study equipment.

Additionally, DCTs have the potential for selection bias, as individuals comfortable with technology or with reliable internet access may be more likely to enroll.

Monitoring DCTs can also be more challenging compared to traditional clinical trials, as there is less direct oversight of participants and their study tasks. Reduced interaction between participants and healthcare professionals in DCTs may also impact the quality of care and support provided to participants.

How is the safety of clinical trial participants protected?

Ensuring the safety of clinical trial participants is of utmost importance and is carefully safeguarded through various measures.

Informed consent

Informed consent is a critical aspect of partaking in a clinical trial, where participants are provided with detailed information about the trial, including potential risks and benefits, allowing participants to make an informed decision before participation.

The informed consent process goes beyond simply obtaining a signature on a form. It involves open and honest communication between the trial investigators and the participants, ensuring that individuals fully comprehend the nature of their involvement and the potential implications.

Participants have the right to ask questions, request further information, and take time to consider their decision without any pressure.

Ethical review

Before a clinical trial can begin, it must undergo rigorous ethical and scientific review by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) or ethics committees. These committees thoroughly evaluate the trial's design, potential risks, and benefits to ensure participant welfare.

Safety monitoring

Researchers must follow strict regulatory guidelines and protocols to protect participant safety throughout the trial. Regular monitoring and oversight by trained healthcare professionals are conducted to promptly detect and address any adverse events or side effects.

Regulatory oversight

Regulatory oversight plays a vital role in ensuring the safety and ethical conduct of clinical trials. Regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have established strict guidelines and regulations that must be followed by researchers, sponsors, and clinical trial investigators.

These regulations cover various aspects of the trial, including study design, participant recruitment, informed consent, data collection and analysis, and adverse event reporting.

Independent oversight

Independent oversight in clinical trials serves as an additional layer of protection to ensure the integrity, safety, and ethical conduct of the study.

Independent oversight bodies, such as IRBs, ethics committees or DSMBs, which operate independently from the trial investigators and sponsors, serve as external entities responsible for reviewing and monitoring the ethical aspects of the trial.

These independent bodies consist of diverse members, including medical professionals, scientists, ethicists, and representatives from the community. Their primary responsibility is to monitor participant safety throughout the trial by regularly reviewing safety data and trial progress.

Adverse event reporting

Adverse event reporting is a vital aspect of clinical trials that ensures the timely identification and assessment of any unexpected or undesirable events that occur during the trial. These events can include adverse reactions to the investigational treatment, worsening of symptoms, or any other unexpected medical occurrences.

The adverse event reporting process allows for comprehensive safety monitoring, enabling the early detection of potential risks and the implementation of appropriate measures to protect the well-being of participants.

How do I enroll in a clinical trial?

Enrolling in a clinical trial involves a step-by-step process to ensure that you are eligible and well-informed before participating.

To begin, you can search for clinical trials that align with your specific condition or area of interest. Online databases, clinical trial registries, or healthcare providers can provide information on ongoing trials.

Once you find a trial that seems suitable, you can reach out to the study team or contact person listed in the trial description. They will guide you through the enrollment process, provide additional details about the trial, and answer any questions you may have.

Our comprehensive database provides a wide range of trials covering various medical conditions and research areas. Discover clinical trials near you today.

Find a clinical trial!


In conclusion, clinical trials are a crucial component of medical research and advancement. They offer the opportunity to evaluate new treatments, improve healthcare outcomes, and contribute to the betterment of society.

While clinical trials provide potential benefits such as access to cutting-edge therapies, active participation in healthcare decisions, and the chance to help others, it is important to consider the risks involved, including potential side effects and time commitments.

Rigorous oversight, informed consent, independent monitoring, and robust adverse event reporting mechanisms help protect participant rights and ensure their safety throughout the trial process.

By balancing the potential benefits with the inherent risks, individuals can make informed decisions about whether to participate in a clinical trial.

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