Background Participants in clinical research studies often do not reflect the populations for which healthcare interventions are needed or will be used. Enhancing representation of underserved groups in clinical research is important to ensure that research findings are widely applicable. We describe a multicomponent workstream project to improve representation of underserved groups in clinical trials.
Methods The project comprised three main strands: 1) a targeted scoping review of literature to identify previous work characterising underserved groups and barriers to inclusion; 2) surveys of professional stakeholders and participant representative groups involved in research delivery to refine these initial findings and identify examples of innovation and good practice; 3) a series of workshops bringing together key stakeholders from funding, design, delivery and participant groups to reach consensus on definitions, barriers and a strategic roadmap for future work. The work was commissioned by the UK National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network. Output from these strands was integrated by a steering committee to generate a series of goals, workstream plans, and a strategic roadmap for future development work in this area.
Results ‘Underserved groups’ was identified and agreed by the stakeholder group as the preferred term. Three-quarters of stakeholders felt that a clear definition of underserved groups did not currently exist; definition was challenging and context-specific but exemplar groups (e.g. those with language barriers or mental illness) were identified as underserved. Barriers to successful inclusion of underserved groups could be clustered into: communication between research teams and participant groups; how trials are designed and delivered, differing agendas of research teams and participant groups; and lack of trust in the research process. Four key goals for future work were identified: building long-term relationships with underserved groups; developing training resources to improve design and delivery of trials for underserved groups; developing infrastructure and systems to support this work, and working with funders, regulators and other stakeholders to remove barriers to inclusion.
Conclusions The work of the INCLUDE group over the next 12 months will build on these findings by generating resources customised for different underserved groups to improve the representativeness of trial populations.