Doctor participation lags behind demand for clinical trials

Physicians say they don't have enough time or resources to be clinical investigators.

By Damon Adams — Posted July 19, 2004

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A new online survey of doctors by Harris Interactive found that 11% of physicians were interested in becoming clinical investigators but did not know where to get started while 17% were not interested in such work.

Harris Interactive also looked at the need for clinical investigators and found it increasing because of the rising number of clinical trials.

"There is a bigger demand for bigger and better trials," said Humphrey Taylor, chair of The Harris Poll at Harris Interactive.

Only 13% of practicing physicians were serving as clinical investigators when the poll was conducted in May. About half of the 431 physicians surveyed said they had never conducted a clinical trial.

"There are a lot of physicians who don't know about trials or who never thought about it before," Taylor said.

Nearly four in 10 physicians said they did not have any opportunities to serve in a clinical trial. The other top reasons for low physician involvement are: time commitment is too much; not enough personnel support; not enough resources; and burdensome paperwork.

"The real obstacle is that the way the medical system exists today, there is no flexibility to devote the time and resources" for work with trials, said Mace Rothenberg, MD, Ingram professor of cancer research and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Dr. Rothenberg said some physicians may view work on a clinical trial as a loss of income because it takes away time from seeing patients.

Practicing physicians may need grant support to encourage them to take part, he said. The survey said making participation less burdensome would help retain investigators.

The number of drugs being developed to treat cancer is increasing, and more clinicians will be needed to help test them.

"Some of these drugs are going to fall by the wayside without adequate testing," Dr. Rothenberg said.

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Why doctors aren't involved

More than 50% of practicing physicians have never conducted a clinical trial. Here are the top reasons given by the 431 surveyed physicians for either never joining or dropping out of the ranks of clinical investigators.

38% have not had opportunities to act as a principal- or sub-investigator
32% said time commitment is too much
30% do not have enough personnel support
26% do not have resources required to run a successful clinical trial
24% said paperwork is too much of a burden

Source: Harris Interactive

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