Throughout the history of medical research, myths have often been confused with facts.

Medical and health research includes a huge array of complicated fields that range from looking at how a tiny portion of our genes can affect our health to learning how to better treat severe and rare diseases or conditions. Some research is done in a laboratory looking under a microscope. Some happens in hospitals or other large health care settings. Some happens in neighborhoods or patient homes. Some research can involve taking an experimental drug while other includes activities like answering a series of questions about a specific health topic.

For many of us, what we know about research may come from news reports on the television, articles in the newspapers, and stories and experiences of our friends and family members. That means it can be hard to separate what is a myth about research and what is a fact. Yet, learning more about research is an important step in understanding what research contributes to our society and how you can become involved.

Find out the truth by clicking on the five statements to the left.

  • 1

    Medical research studies are only conducted to identify if a new drug is better than an existing drug for a particular illness.

  • 2

    When you participate in a research study, your personal and medical information may be made public in the results.

  • 3

    After you join a medical research study, you have the right to continue to ask questions and get answers.

  • 4

    The majority of medical research in the United States is conducted with minority groups.

  • 5

    The majority of treatments and advice offered by doctors to their patients is informed by medical and health research.


Medical research studies are conducted to gain what we call "generalizable knowledge" about all kinds of diseases, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.

Researchers may test a new drug to see if people respond more quickly than they did to an existing drug, but other treatments are important to study too. Medical research enables doctors today to do advanced heart surgeries that didn't exist 20 years ago. Research also helps to understand the course of a disease and how to prevent it. Research can also be done to test the effectiveness of exercise or dietary changes. Not all medical research involves taking new drugs or testing medical devices or techniques.


When a research study is done and the results are released, all the results are combined, and there is no way to identify an individual participant. Your personal information and medical records are not identifiable. Researchers, hospitals and doctors' offices are required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which ensures that personal information and medical records are not identifiable throughout the entire study.


You can ask questions of the research team at any time during the study. You can also raise any concern you have about the study at any time. Finally, you can withdraw from a study at any time, and if the researcher is also your doctor, withdrawing will not affect your right to your regular care.


In the U.S., racial and ethnic minorities participate less than Whites in medical research. In fact, research for many years was typically done only with White men.

It's important for women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups to participate so that researchers can fully understand how different diseases or treatments affect people of different genders and backgrounds. That is essential to making sure that we can provide the best possible care for everyone. Diversity matters in research.


Doctors and other health professionals read professional journals that report research results and go to continuing education programs to learn about how research results can improve care.

We’ve introduced a few myths and facts, and below you will find other resources to help you learn more about research.

As you learn more about research, you’ll sometimes hear both myths and facts about research studies that happened in the past in which the participants were not treated in an ethical manner. The next section will help you to understand more about this important history and how it changed the way we conduct research today.

Clinical and Non-Clinical Research Projects

Many times, people think that being a subject in research means they would be testing a new drug or medical technique or device. In fact, participating in research can mean many different things. In clinical trials, you may be asked to take a drug, either because you have the disease being studied, or as a healthy volunteer. In some studies, a researcher will ask you to take a survey or answer some questions. In other cases, you may be asked to perform a specific activity, such as eating a restricted diet or engaging in an exercise program. Sometimes, you may just be observed by the research team. And in certain studies, researchers might ask you to donate a sample, such as blood, urine or saliva.

You might be interested in participating in some kinds of research, but not others. People have many different reasons why they decide to participate. Some people have a disease that is being studied and want to find out more about their illness or contribute to finding a cure or treatment. Some people want to help their family and future generations, or because they feel it is their civic duty to participate. Others participate because of compensation they may receive, in the form of medical care, advice, or actual payment.

Watch these "people on the street" interviews to get a sense of the public's view on participation in health research.

Important Question

What types of research would you participate in? What motivates you to participate?

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