Your guide to Interpreting Clinical Research
Here at Citruslabs, we believe medical research and clinical trials should be accessible for everyone, however a lot of times the results from studies and other research are written using only technical jargon. Understanding some of the key terminology can help you to read and actually digest current medical findings.
Questions to Consider
When looking at a new study, it’s important to think critically about the research in order to understand its significance. First, was the study done on animals or people? Did the study include people like you (of the same age, race, sex, and having the same health conditions?) How big was the study? If a new treatment was tested what were the side effects? Finally, who paid for and who is reporting the research?
Having these questions in mind is a great place to start when it comes to understanding clinical trial results. From there, you just need to know where in the study to find the information you need.
The Abstract is generally the first thing you’ll see in a scientific paper, and it does exactly what it says on the tin: gives you an abstract understanding of the research done. Here you’ll find a brief summary of what was tested, why, and what the results were.
The Introduction of a research paper is all about context. There will be information shared about why the research was done (what’s going on in the world that’s caused this need?), as well as what research has already been done on the topic, and what gaps exist in the current research that this study hopes to fill.
Methods is once again a self-explanatory section, this will tell you how the study took place. You’ll be able to learn more about the sample (the patients involved) and specific testing methods. The Results are up next, and will be where you find the outcome of the study and any charts or graphs displaying the data. Lastly, the Conclusion wraps things up by relating the context of the Abstract to the findings of the current study.
While there are plenty of terms used in research papers that may be confusing, understanding just a few key phrases can help you wrap your head around things more easily.
Randomized, controlled clinical trials -- These are considered the Gold standard for clinical trial work, and they involve randomly assigning patients to either a control/Placebo group, or a treatment group which will actually receive whatever is being tested. The groups are often called “Arms.”
Blinding -- to blind a clinical trial is to ensure that the participants in the above two groups don’t know which group they’ve been assigned to. Double blinding is when neither the researcher or the participants know the group assignments. This is done to remove any potential biases.
Primary outcome measure -- This is the main thing researchers are trying to assess, and is typically one factor that has been deemed the most important in evaluating the effectiveness of a treatment. For example, for a new pain-relieving medication this measure might be how patients rate their pain on a scale of 1-10 with and without treatment. This is also referred to as the “primary end point.”
If you come across other terms that you aren’t sure of, check out this comprehensive list of common clinical terms explained. It’s a fantastic free resource that will help you better understand clinical trial results, medical new stories, and any other forms of published research.
Want to Learn More?
In addition to keeping you up to date on all things clinical trials, we also act as a digital CRO with a specific focus on patient recruitment and retention. We believe that patient recruitment and study startup (especially study design and study material) are heavily intertwined. After all, study design can make or break clinical trials, and the patient-perspective should be considered when designing studies to ensure that patient targets are met not only on time, but also on budget.
For Citruslabs, patient recruitment starts with study design and ends with trial completion. We recruit patients through our network of health apps, which enables you to connect with thousands of patients in real time. The best part: these patients are already educated and prepared for the clinical trial process.
If you’d like to hear more about what we do, go here to read about what sets us apart, or here to read what our patients have to say about us.