The people who participate in clinical research trials go by many different names. Different patient recruitment companies refer to them as patients, volunteers, participants, subjects, or even their own unique designations. Is there a “correct” term to use for these people? Are some better than others? In today’s post, we have some thoughts on the semantics of clinical trial patient recruitment.
Patients and Subjects?
Let’s start with the worst terms for patient recruitment companies to use. Although the term “patient” is a very common one, it is factually incorrect when it’s used to refer to the people who volunteer for clinical trials. Patients are people who are receiving health care from doctors, and research is something very different from that. There’s no guarantee that a volunteer will receive anything more than a placebo, and he may even simply function as part of a control group.
The term “subject” is not as common during the clinical trial patient recruitment phase, but it is common during the trials themselves. The medical community is accustomed to using the term, but to the average person, it can sound objectionable, making him feel as if he’s an experiment with no feelings or personality.
Participants and Volunteers
Many patient recruitment companies prefer to use a term like “participant.” It doesn’t cause confusion like “patient” or “subject,” and it is clear about the person’s role in the study. Our favorite term, and the one we use in our clinical trial patient recruitment materials, is “volunteer.” The term recognizes that the individual is giving his or her time and energy to help the cause of medical research, and it helps us remember that the volunteer deserves our gratitude, care, and assistance throughout the clinical trial.
Terms are meaningful! It’s more than a matter of semantics; the way you refer to the people whom you are trying to recruit can have either a positive or negative effect on the relationship that you share with them.