Clinical trials have enormous value to society as they provide the most robust means of working out whether or not particular treatments used to improve the health of our population work or not. Governments have a stated objective to increase participation in clinical trials based upon a series of assumptions that extend beyond their utility as a means to derive the highest level of reliable evidence about the efficacy and safety of interventions. One of these is that those people who are included derive a tangible benefit from doing so. Whilst this may not be true in all cases, after all up to 50% of people may receive an inferior treatment by definition, there is the potential for people to derive individual benefit, and it is often stated that those involved in a trial receive a higher standard of care than those not included. Certainly, the additional testing and closer scrutiny of people on a trial may equate in some instances to better care, but this should not be seen as a major driver as it could be argued that equitable care should be available as a universal right. A less discussed benefit is the connectedness and satisfaction that people may derive from making a tangible contribution to society through participation in clinical research. Furthermore, there may be indeterminate peer group benefits even if an individual does not benefit.
In an Australian study Smith et al (1) found that CALD people whose preferred language was not-English (PLNE) had the lowest participation rates in clinical trials. Whilst CALD people whose preferred language was English (PLE) had greater levels of enrollment than the PLNE group, they were still underrepresented by population. This has been described across the world and is identified as a pressing concern (2). Understanding why this is the case is important for a number of reasons. In multiculturally diverse countries like Australia, testing interventions where a significant proportion of the population are not included could result in evidence that is not applicable to those people. This spans across biological differences which may be relevant to drug efficacy or toxicity through to interventions such as screening that may fail to be useful in those populations. Where there is evidence that participation in a clinical trial may present specific advantages there is also the issue of injustice through exclusion of a particular group or groups of persons. Certainly, from an implementation perspective, not including a diverse group of participants and analyzing for cultural and behavioral acceptability may mean that even if an intervention has merit it fails to be taken up.
The reasons for non-inclusion are likely more complex than those of language barriers, although having protocols for clinical trials that specifically exclude people who don’t have higher levels of proficiency in English do not help. It would seem that the language barrier could be soluble through providing greater resources to enable translation services, particular in areas with a clear need for this. Certainly, multi-national trials already have PICFs in multiple languages and these could be readily deployed through use of innovative technologies including eConsent processes. Funders of clinical trials could make it a requirement for such inclusivity and back it up through provision of specific funding for this in any grants they award. Legal means to enforce this, whilst possible, are unlikely to drive systemic change and could have the unintended consequence of making it harder to do any trials at all in an environment already subject to extreme financial pressures.
However, a major reason for low levels of participation in clinical trials may be attributed to equity of access to clinical services in the first place. It is hard to recruit people from the general population into clinical trials, but even harder if specific members of the population don’t come to the health service in the first place. There is relatively little research on this topic and it would seem logical to do this as a priority in parallel with examining why people fail to participate in clinical trials due to language barriers. Perhaps clinical trials are simply the canary alerting us to broader inequities that need greater research and investment. Research into solutions to these inequities is accordingly a priority and may solve clinical trial participation rates as a consequence.
- Smith A, Agar M, Delaney G, Descallar J, Dobell-Brown K, Grand M, et al. Lower trial participation by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) cancer patients is largely due to language barriers. Asia Pac J Clin Oncol. 2018;14(1):52-60.
- Clark LT, Watkins L, Pina IL, Elmer M, Akinboboye O, Gorham M, et al. Increasing Diversity in Clinical Trials: Overcoming Critical Barriers. Curr Probl Cardiol. 2019;44(5):148-72.
Nik Zeps participated in the CCV forum at the COSA ASM. A full report of the workshop and research by the CCV and MCCabe centre is forthcoming.
This post may be cited as:
Zeps, N. (4 December 2019) Inclusion of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse populations in Clinical Trials. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/inclusion-of-culturally-and-linguistically-diverse-populations-in-clinical-trials