Barriers prevent many Hispanics from participating in research studies

05/12/05

Providing health services, showing benefit to the community and speaking Spanish help in recruitment of Hispanic research participants, according to research presented at American Geriatrics Society meeting

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- At a time when the Hispanic population in the United States is growing at a rate faster than any other minority group, Hispanics still represent only a small portion of participants in clinical research studies. Researchers from the University of Michigan Health System and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System set out to find the reasons for the lack of participation, and to find ways to encourage Hispanics to take part in studies that could help build an understanding of the ways diseases affect people of various races and ethnicities. They are presenting the results at the American Geriatrics Society's annual meeting.

They found that many Hispanic people would be more willing to participate if the researcher spoke Spanish, if they felt like the process would have a health benefit to them, if the research had a direct benefit to the Hispanic community and if they could do their part on weekends rather than weekdays.

The findings could help researchers recruit more Hispanic people, which is essential for finding information about the way diseases such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease affect them, the lead researcher says.

"These are diseases that are more prevalent among Hispanics, and minorities in general," says Joel Escobedo, who is presenting the poster at the AGS meeting. "We need to understand how these conditions affect Hispanics, how treatments work for them, and what areas we need to pay particular attention to with Hispanic patients."

"There are differences in how you treat different populations," says Carol Lee, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, with a focus on geriatrics, at the U-M Medical School.

"Unless you have these populations participating in studies, you can't have a good understanding of how the diseases impact them," says Lee, Escobedo's mentor on the research, who also is affiliated with the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Escobedo, a third-year medical student at the U-M Medical School, studied 14 residents ages 60-91 in Chicago. He interviewed them and gave them a questionnaire written in Spanish.

Many participants said they would be willing to be a part of studies about topics such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia.

One of the main hurdles to getting them to participate, Escobedo says, was getting information to Hispanic people that studies are taking place. While Hispanics represent some 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for just 1 percent of clinical trial participation nationally, according to the Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation. Of the 14 participants in the UMHS study, 10 had heard about clinical research studies, and 50 percent of those who had heard about studies had participated.

"We found that they often just don't know about research studies that need participants," Escobedo says. "When they actually know about clinical research, many Hispanic people are willing to participate."

He recalls that some members of the group were reluctant to participate at first, but they grew more interested when Escobedo offered them health screenings for blood pressure and diabetes.

One finding that surprised Escobedo was that none of the participants expressed concern about the ethnic background of the researcher. "They didn't care, as long as the person spoke Spanish," he said.

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