Understanding Clinical Trials

Understanding Clinical Trials

Understanding Clinical Trials

Through clinical trials, researchers better understand how to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and medical conditions. These research studies test and compare experimental drugs and techniques with a goal to learn everything necessary to bring beneficial new treatments to patients. In fact, most drugs and devices being used today began in clinical trials to test their safety and effectiveness.

Clinical Trial Participation

Clinical trials, and the patients who volunteer to participate in them, help shape the future of medicine. Yet applying to take part in a clinical trial is a personal decision—and one that you should carefully consider. As you weigh your decision, consider these key questions:

  • What is the purpose of the research study?
  • Who will be in charge of my care?
  • What will happen to me during the study?
  • Will the research personally benefit me?
  • How might this study affect my daily life?
  • Will there be any side effects?
  • How will I know if the experimental treatment is working?
  • Are there other options?
  • Can I leave the research study at any point?
  • Will the results of the study be provided to me?
  • How is my safety ensured and protected?
  • Will it cost me anything?
  • Will this be covered by my insurance?

Benefits and Risks

A dedicated board of Northwestern Medicine medical specialists carefully reviews all potential clinical trials before making them available to you. However, it is important that you understand the potential benefits and risks of participation in any research study, which include:


  • Help test investigational medications and treatments that may develop into a better treatment for people around the world
  • Play an active role in your own healthcare
  • Gain access to new research treatments before they are available to the public
  • Obtain quality medical care at a leading healthcare facility during the trial


  • Possible unpleasant, serious or life-threatening side effects related to experimental treatment
  • Treatments or therapies may not be effective
  • Protocols may require more time and attention than standard care, such as trips to the study site, additional treatments, hospital stays or complex dosage requirements