For Referring Physicians

Referring Your Patients to Clinical Studies

On this page:

A Quick Overview  |  Staying Involved: Your Role  |  Common Concerns

Welcome to the NIH Clinical Center. This Web site is for a unique cadre of "partners in discovery"—those of you who refer or plan to refer patients to clinical research protocols at NIH's clinical research hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.

As you know, clinical research and medical discovery depend on the participation of patient volunteers. Many patient volunteers become involved in clinical research because their personal physicians have discussed the option with them.

We appreciate your commitment to clinical research and are committed to strengthening our collaborations with you. We welcome your feedback about this Web site and about how to improve our communications with you. Please let us hear from you.

Female doctor with young girl.

A Quick Overview

How Does Clinical Research Work?

Clinical research is medical research that involves people. Individuals volunteer to participate in carefully conducted investigations that ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose and understand human disease.

Who Participates in Clinical Research

A patient volunteer has a known health problem and participates in research to better understand, diagnose, treat, or cure that disease or condition. Research procedures with a patient volunteer help develop new knowledge. These procedures may or may not benefit the study participants.

What Do I Need to Know If I Am Thinking of Participating?

Learn as much as possible about the clinical trial you are considering. Ask members of the research team questions about the study. Here are some of the questions you might want answered.

What Happens After a Clinical Trial is Complete?

After a clinical trial is completed, the researchers carefully examine information collected during the study before making decisions about the meaning of the findings and about further testing.

Ethics in Clinical Research

The goal of clinical research is to develop generalizable knowledge that improves human health or increases understanding of human biology. People who participate in clinical research make it possible to secure that knowledge.

Staying Involved: Your Role

Stay Involved with Patients You've Referred to the NIH Clinical Center

The NIH Clinical Center is committed to keeping you informed about the patients you refer here to participate in clinical research studies. When a patient is accepted into a protocol, he or she is asked to identify practitioners who should receive ongoing medical updates. Patients provide written authorization for us to share this information. Please encourage your patients to list you as authorized to receive these updates.

Authorized practitioners will receive a report following the patient's initial visit to the Clinical Center and periodic updates about the patient's progress. The initial report will discuss preliminary findings and also will provide the referring practitioner with contact information for the patient's NIH clinical team, including the attending physician and the branch chief of the Institute sponsoring the study in which the patient is enrolled.

Common Concerns

Why Participate?

  • Patients taking part in NIH Clinical Center studies are seen by a team of expert doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians, and support staff.
  • Clinical Center patients often are first to receive promising new treatments before they become available in the community.
  • Patients are helping others with the same disease, both today and in the future.


It is important to understand that some risks are involved in clinical research, just as in routine medical care and activities of daily living. In thinking about the risks of research, it is helpful to focus on two things:

  1. the degree of harm that could result from taking part in the study
  2. and the chance of any harm occurring

Most clinical studies pose risks of minor discomfort, lasting only a short time. Some volunteer subjects, however, experience complications that require medical attention.

The specific risks associated with any research protocol are described in detail in the consent document, which you are asked to sign before taking part in research. In addition, the major risks of participating in a study will be explained to you by a member of the research team, who will answer your questions about the study. Before deciding to participate, you should carefully weigh these risks against possible benefits.

You may or may not receive direct benefit for yourself and your condition as a result of participating in research, but in either case, you will know that the knowledge developed may help others.

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This page last updated on 05/03/2024

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