Supportive Care in Cancer

, 16:1397 | Cite as

A survey of the views of palliative care healthcare professionals towards referring cancer patients to participate in randomized controlled trials in palliative care

  • Clare WhiteEmail author
  • Kristen Gilshenan
  • Janet Hardy
Original Article


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.


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.


Gatekeeping Randomised controlled trials Healthcare professionals Palliative Attitudes 



The authors would like to thank Australia New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, Centre for Palliative Care Research and Education, Brisbane, Palliative Care Research Fund, Mater Health Services, Macmillan Cancer Support for funding for CW and Andrew Monington and Amy Pinkerton for data entry.

Conflict of interest statements

Clare White declares that she participated in the study design, implementation, collecting of results, analysing results, and write up and that she has seen and approved the final version. She has no conflicts of interest.

Kristen Gilshenan declares that she participated in the statistical analysis of the results and that she has seen and approved the final version. She has no conflicts of interest.

Janet Hardy declares that she participated in the study design, implementation, collecting of results, analysing results, and write up and that she has seen and approved the final version. She has no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Palliative Medicine, Mater Health ServicesBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Northern Ireland HospiceBelfastNorthern Ireland
  3. 3.Department of Palliative Care, Mater Health ServicesBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Mater Research Support Centre, Mater Health ServicesBrisbaneAustralia

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