Characteristics of clinical trials that require participants to be fluent in English

Clin Trials. 2015 Dec;12(6):618-26. doi: 10.1177/1740774515592881. Epub 2015 Jul 7.


Background/aims: Diverse samples in clinical trials can make findings more generalizable. We sought to characterize the prevalence of clinical trials in the United States that required English fluency for participants to enroll in the trial.

Methods: We randomly chose over 10,000 clinical trial protocols registered with and examined the inclusion and exclusion criteria of the trials. We compared the relationship of clinical trial characteristics with English fluency inclusion requirements. We merged the data with US Census and American Community Survey data to investigate the association of English-language restrictions with ZIP-code-level demographic characteristics of participating institutions. We used Chi-squared tests, t-tests, and logistic regression models for analyses.

Results: English fluency requirements have been increasing over time, from 1.7% of trials having such requirements before 2000 to 9.0% after 2010 (p < 0.001 from Chi-squared test). Industry-sponsored trials had low rates of English fluency requirements (1.8%), while behavioral trials had high rates (28.4%). Trials opening in the Northeast of the United States had the highest regional English requirement rates (10.7%), while trials opening in more than one region had the lowest (3.3%, p<0.001). Since 1995, trials opening in ZIP codes with larger Hispanic populations were less likely to have English fluency requirements (odds ratio=0.92 for each 10% increase in proportion of Hispanics, 95% confidence interval=0.86-0.98, p=0.013). Trials opening in ZIP codes with more residents self-identifying as Black/African American (odds ratio=1.87, 95% confidence interval=1.36-2.58, p<0.001 for restricted cubic spline term) or Asian (odds ratio=1.16 for linear term, 95% confidence interval=1.07-1.25, p<0.001) were more likely to have English fluency requirements. ZIP codes with higher poverty rates had trials with more English-language restrictions (odds ratio=1.06 for a 10% poverty rate increase, 95% confidence interval=1.001-1.11, p=0.045). There was a statistically significant interaction between year and intervention type, such that the increase in English fluency requirements was more common for some interventions than for others.

Conclusion: The proportion of clinical trials registered with that have English fluency requirements for study inclusion has been increasing over time. English-language restrictions are associated with a number of characteristics, including the demographic characteristics of communities in which the sponsoring institutions are located.

Keywords: English fluency requirements; eligibility requirements; health disparities research; minority participation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Eligibility Determination*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Literacy
  • Male
  • Patient Selection*
  • Research Design
  • United States