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Motivations and Fears in Health Research and Clinical Trials

A new systematic review examines the factors that motivate people to participate in health research studies and clinical trials.

Clinical research is a major part of drug development and healthcare education, and many advances in medicine can be attributed to clinical trials. One of the primary challenges for clinical research is recruiting participants since many people are hesitant to participate in clinical trials. In fact, only one-third of clinical trials in the UK recruit their target number of patients.

This impacts the generalizability of clinical trial results, which refers to how well the results of a study apply to the general population.  It is ideal for research to be generalizable for optimal health outcomes across large populations, so determining how to maximize the recruitment of participants is a major focus for researchers.  A recent study conducted at the University of York and Hull York Medical School, U.K.,  published in Trials examined factors that motivate and prevent people from participating in health research.

Researchers looked at more than 400 studies from various countries included in 26 systematic reviews.  These studies discussed different barriers and facilitators for health research and determined which ones were most significant. 

The most common barrier to participating in clinical research was the fear of side effects and unknown outcomes.  Another barrier to participating in research was concern over compromised confidentiality and privacy. Confidentiality refers to the responsibility of healthcare professionals to keep information private, and privacy refers to the patient’s right to keep their information private. Finally, a common barrier to health research participation among minority races, in particular, was distrust in healthcare professionals, which could potentially be attributed to inequalities in patient care due to implicit racial biases.

The results of this study suggest that new strategies should be implemented to increase participant recruitment and in turn increase health research generalizability.  These schemes could focus on addressing patients’ fears regarding side effects, confidentiality, and privacy, as well as reducing patient care inequalities.  Moreover, they suggest that the current strategies are not as effective as they could be.


People fearful of taking part in vital clinical research. (2020, March 16). Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

CDC – privacy and confidentiality – OSI – OADS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published October 11, 2017.

Research 101: Levels of evidence in Hydrocephalus Clinical Research Studies. Hydrocephalus Association. Published March 7, 2021.

Sheridan, R., Martin-Kerry, J., Hudson, J., Parker, A., Bower, P., & Knapp, P. (2020). Why do patients take part in research? An overview of systematic reviews of psychosocial barriers and facilitators. Trials21(259).



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