A Crisis of Health and Scientific Literacy


Applied Clinical Trials

Applied Clinical TrialsApplied Clinical Trials-06-01-2020
Volume 29
Issue 6

Recent surveys of the public and patients concerning COVID-19 highlight the larger issue around health and/or scientific literacy among the general public.

In the world of clinical trials, many issues and observations have arisen because of COVID-19. At the top of that list, is the increased talk and implementation around decentralized or hybrid approaches for clinical trials. These approaches appear noticeably more conducive in supporting the challenges that the pandemic has brought to sites and patients. Whether it’s actual trial suspensions, or limited accessibility by monitors, plain fear of

Lis Henderson

contracting the virus, or some combination of these or other challenges, it’s clear that COVID is fomenting change in the industry. You can read more about these initiatives, as well as results of investigative sites surveys in our June feature article

However, it is CISCRP’s survey of public and patients in April around their knowledge or experience of clinical trials in regard to COVID-19 that is notable for exactly that-the audience. This may be a time where, conceivably, more people have heard the term clinical trials regularly mentioned in media coverage. But the CISCRP survey found that awareness of clinical trials remains low, with 58% of respondents having not heard of a COVID-19 research study.

“Interestingly, among the minority that had recently heard of a COVID-19 clinical research study in the recruitment phase, we learned that a higher proportion (40%) of Europeans are aware than Americans (34%),” said Annick de Bruin, director, research services, CISCRP, in a press release. “This contrasts with our larger baseline 2019 Perceptions & Insights Study where we found that North Americans are more likely to be aware of a current clinical trial in general than any other region. This may partially be due to the fact that the crisis evolved earlier in Europe.”

In addition, the survey noted misconceptions about the clinical research development process persist. Most (60%) think a treatment or vaccine for the virus will be developed in less than one year. Once developed, the

majority (64%) think it will be less than a year before people can start receiving it.

What this, and other reports highlight, is the larger issue around health and/or scientific literacy among the general public, which is clearly lacking and at times, blatantly misguided. For example, while most in our industry understand the value of vaccines, our Washington Correspondent Jill Wechsler reports here about the growing anti-vax movement and other vaccination concerns inspired by the pandemic. 

Pharmaceutical CEOs in a recent roundtable were hopeful that the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to rise to the challenges of the pandemic, showcasing the positives of scientific innovation, could well prove to be industry’s finest hour. But can that overcome the overall lack of health literacy?


Lisa Henderson is Editor-in-Chief of Applied Clinical Trials. She can be reached at lhenderson@mmhgroup.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter: @trialsonline

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