Duty, desire or indifference? A qualitative study of patient decisions about recruitment to an epilepsy treatment trial

Trials. 2006 Dec 12;7:32. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-7-32.


Background: Epilepsy is a common neurological condition, in which drugs are the mainstay of treatment and drugs trials are commonplace. Understanding why patients might or might not opt to participate in epilepsy drug trials is therefore of some importance, particularly at a time of rapid drug development and testing; and the findings may also have wider applicability. This study examined the role of patient perceptions in the decision-making process about recruitment to an RCT (the SANAD Trial) that compared different antiepileptic drug treatments for the management of new-onset seizures and epilepsy.

Methods: In-depth interviews with 23 patients recruited from four study centres. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed; the transcripts were analysed thematically using a qualitative data analysis package.

Results: Of the nineteen informants who agreed to participate in SANAD, none agreed for purely altruistic reasons. The four informants who declined all did so for very specific reasons of self-interest. Informants' perceptions of the nature of the trial, of the drugs subject to trial, and of their own involvement were all highly influential in their decision-making. Informants either perceived the trial as potentially beneficial or unlikely to be harmful, and so agreed to participate; or as potentially harmful or unlikely to be beneficial and so declined to participate.

Conclusion: Most patients applied 'weak altruism', while maintaining self-interest. An emphasis on the safety and equivalence of treatments allowed some patients to be indifferent to the question of involvement. There was evidence that some participants were subject to 'therapeutic misconceptions'. The findings highlight the individual nature of trials but nonetheless raise some generic issues in relation to their design and conduct.