One way is to become an advocate for yourself. Make sure that you are aware of all your diagnoses and problems. Make sure that your doctor is aware of them and is on the same page that you are. If you do have a difficult problem, find out if there is a scientific society that puts out educational information.
Societies such as the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, The American Cancer Society or the American Red Cross are good sources for information about your medical problems. You don’t even need a website address. They often have branches in your own hometown.
Another way to take part is by choosing to participate in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a research study that uses human volunteers to answer specific health questions. Carefully conducted trials are the best way to find treatments that improve health. Interventional trials determine whether experimental treatments or new ways of using known therapies are safe and effective. Observational trials address health issues in large groups of people or populations in natural settings.
Participants in clinical trials have an active role in their health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research. The thousands of physicians and nurses who have participated themselves in clinical trials have helped us to determine that aspirin was effective in preventing heart attacks and that hormone replacement therapy was not. Through their participation, the face of medicine, the knowledge that we have, and the medications that we use have advanced--and we all owe each one of them our thanks.
Before joining a clinical trial, a participant must qualify for the study. Some research studies seek participants with illnesses or conditions to be studied in the clinical trial, while others need healthy participants. It is important to note that inclusion and exclusion criteria are not used to reject people personally. Instead, the criteria are used to identify appropriate participants and keep them safe. The criteria help ensure that researchers will be able to answer the questions they plan to study. These criteria are based on such factors as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions.
The clinical trial process depends on the kind of trial being conducted. The clinical trial team includes doctors and nurses as well as social workers and other health care professionals. They check the health of the participant at the beginning of the trial, give specific instructions for participating in the trial, monitor the participant carefully during the trial, and stay in touch after the trial is completed.
Clinical trials involve more tests and visits than the participant would normally have for an illness or condition. For all types of trials, the participant works with a research team. Participation is most successful when the protocol is carefully followed and there is contact with the research staff.