What is a clinical study?

If you’ve ever wondered what a clinical study is, this is a great place to start learning more.
September 25, 2019 | 5 min read
Christa S. Plew, MBA
Editor-in-Chief

Advances in medicine don’t just happen. They’re the result of years of research and study performed by people around the world. Two common types of clinical studies performed are clinical trials and observational studies. Both types are intended to provide further insight about the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a medical condition.

Clinical trials, also called interventional studies, are conducted for a variety of reasons. One type of clinical trial compares new medical products, like a device or medicine, to other existing products or even placebos. Other trials might simply compare two products or medicines against each other for evaluation.  Clinical trials are also used to evaluate whether a new intervention is effective at treating a given condition and whether or not the side effects are better or worse than other interventions available. Many times, an institutional review board will monitor these trials to ensure that the potential risks are outweighed by the potential benefits.

Observational studies are conducted to monitor participants in a normal setting. In this type of study, a group of participants may be monitored to see how their behavior affects their health in a certain way. Or, part of the group may be told to make a certain change to their routine; where as the other part of the group makes no change. Then, both are evaluated to see how their change in behavior affected the topic being studied.  

Both types of clinical studies are performed by a research team. These can be made up of a variety of individuals such as doctors, nurses, social workers, and can even include sponsorship by organizations like academic medical centers, medical device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies.

The purpose of the clinical study will determine the type of participant requested. Sometimes healthy patients are needed. Other times, patients who have a certain illness or condition will be needed. This information is all outlined in the protocol defined for that specific study. The study protocol will also define the length of the trial, as all trials vary in length.

A great resource for information about clinical studies, and to find what clinical studies are currently being conducted, is www.clinicaltrials.gov. Another way to find information about active clinical studies is to check with a specific source like a pharmaceutical company, medical center, or medical device manufacturer. These companies might post information on their websites regarding clinical studies they are conducting or sponsoring.

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