Goals of work: Clinical trials in palliative care (PC), especially randomised controlled trials (RCTs), are notoriously difficult to complete. One perceived challenge is gatekeeping, the reluctance of some healthcare professionals (HCPs) to refer patients for research studies. This study aimed to identify the extent of gatekeeping from palliative RCTs.
Materials and methods: An anonymous questionnaire was sent to 597 HCPs with an interest in PC in Australia and New Zealand to assess their willingness to refer patients for RCTs. Respondents considered key issues that might affect their decision, documented willingness to refer to RCTs of increasing complexity in a hypothetical pain situation and documented the degree of patient inconvenience considered acceptable. Demographic data were collected.
Main results: One hundred ninety-eight questionnaires were returned (33%), 122 from doctors and 76 from other HCPs. Very few were willing to refer to complicated studies involving many extra tests and/or hospital visits. Non-medical HCPs were less interested than doctors in studies that involved randomisation, placebo controls or double-blind methodology. The majority would refer patients for non-pharmacological studies, but were less willing to refer for pharmacological studies with possible side effects. Non-medical HCPs were less willing than doctors to refer to trials that involved patient inconvenience. Two factors predicted for greater willingness to refer: previous research experience and male gender.
Conclusion: The survey revealed an unwillingness on the part of many HCPs to refer patients for RCTs in PC. It identifies trial-related factors that may encourage or discourage referral. Gatekeeping has the potential block recruitment and introduce a selection bias.