When you have a specific condition or illness, you might consider joining a research study or clinical trial to receive treatment for that condition. There are many kinds of treatment trials. This kind of research is either trying to learn something new about the treatments that are already used in medical care, or they are testing new treatments or both.
In a treatment trial, it’s common for you to be “randomized” to a study treatment. Randomization is when the study treatments are assigned to volunteers by chance rather than by choice. Researchers do not have any control over who gets which treatment and participants are not able to choose.
Before you join a study, the study team will talk to you about all the possible treatments. You will have a chance to ask questions about each of them and learn more about the options. Because you will not be able to choose the treatment you get, it is important that you are willing and able to follow through with whichever one you are assigned to.
Random assignment to different treatments is how we compare the treatments in an objective way and make sure that we understand how they work for a representative group of people. If researchers or participants are allowed to choose the treatment, it can accidentally skew the study results.
Often, researchers and participants do not even know which treatment is assigned! This is called double-blind randomization. This helps us to be sure that there is no unintentional bias in the information collected – from either the study team or the participant. In this case, the team may be able to learn and/or tell you at the end of your participation which treatment you received.
There are some studies that will allow you to choose to change treatment or add another treatment part way through. Other studies might be able to offer you one of the other treatments after your participation in the active portion of the study is complete – this is common in studies where a new treatment is being compared to a placebo. For example, in some of the COVID vaccine trials, participants were able to learn at the end of their participation whether they got the vaccine or the placebo. Those who had gotten the placebo were then offered the vaccine.
Remember: If you choose to join a treatment trial, you are choosing to receive treatment for a specific condition or illness through a research study. You do not have to join a trial to receive treatment. You can always choose to receive normal medical care through your personal doctor without joining research.