From breast cancer to heart disease and everything in between, there’s always a groundbreaking or landmark clinical study delivering news that could influence your health and wellness. While it’s natural to feel driven to act on clinical studies reported in the news, knowing how to interpret clinical trials for your health can be challenging.
So, we’re here to guide you with some information about clinical studies and how to use research findings to make more informed health care decisions. AdventHealth Daytona Beach Interventional Cardiologist and director of the Structural Heart Program Dinesh Arab, MD offers some insight.
Understanding Clinical Studies
Dr. Arab uses an example of a recent article that grabbed attention with its headline claiming that a “big study casts doubt on need for many heart procedures.”
“The recent news headlines about a trial that showed cardiac stents and bypass not being any better than medications offers information that is only partly true and unlike what’s been touted, not entirely new either,” said Dr. Arab.
He explains that this study excluded patients who were having a heart attack, or worsening symptoms. “In these patients stents and bypass surgery definitely saves lives. In addition, the sicker patients, people with weak heart pumps and people with high-risk anatomy were excluded.”
Dr. Arab details some other details about the study, but the most important message is that this is just one example of the need to read the fine print in every study (not news articles) before making conclusions about your health.
And before you can interpret clinical study results, it’s important to know how clinical studies work. The goal of clinical studies with human volunteers is to discover and contribute medical knowledge about preventing, treating or diagnosing diseases or conditions.
This could mean that a clinical study is conducted to:
- Evaluate a specific treatment, such as drugs, devices or surgery
- Discover new ways to prevent disease
- Identify innovative ways to diagnose disease
- Find risk factors for a disease or condition
Types of Clinical Studies
Clinical trials and observational studies are two main types of clinical studies.
Clinical trials involve a research plan (or protocol) that outlines how participants receive interventions such as a medication, device, procedure or even lifestyle change. Sometimes, clinical trials compare new or existing interventions.
A primary goal of clinical trials is to determine both the safety and effectiveness of the intervention being studied. In clinical trials that study drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines specific phases that must be followed before the drug is available to the general public.
Observational studies work a bit differently. Study participants receive the intervention as a part of their routine medical care, opposed to the intervention being assigned by a research investigator.
What Clinical Studies Can Tell You
Clinical studies are essential to the practice of medicine and the journey to improving the health, wellness and quality of life for many in the future. They can offer valuable information, but it’s important to understand how to interpret clinical study information — and how to apply it to you personally — before making decisions that could impact your health.
“The problem with the practice of medicine today is that it is population based. What’s good or bad for a group is considered good or bad for you,” Dr. Arab said. “While this may be correct in most cases, individuals are unique, and have different goals.”
When you see an attention-grabbing news headline about a clinical trial breakthrough, it’s very important to understand that you might need more information about how the study applies to your health, which your trusted doctor can provide.
“That’s where your doctor comes into the picture. She or he knows you as a person and can tailor therapy based on what you need as an individual,” Dr. Arab said.
How to Discuss Clinical Trials with You Doctor
With new advances in medicine occurring every day, choose a partner in whole health who stays current on the latest research findings within their specific area of practice. You may also consider a provider that is part of a larger health system that conducts clinical studies, too — like AdventHealth.
Our network of care conducts hundreds of clinical trials each year to uncover new solutions for whole-person treatment, prevention, diagnostic care, screening, quality of life and more.
As a patient, you can ask your doctor about the latest research that applies to your whole health. Even if you’re healthy, there might be new insights to help you sustain your wellness — in body, mind and spirit.
Learn more about state-of-the art heart care and research at AdventHealth Daytona Beach.