Whom do you trust? And why?

The way you answer those questions affects every decision you make, from where to shop for groceries to where to turn for healthcare. The bigger the decision, the more trust matters—and few decisions are more important than those related to health.

That’s why trusted physician-patient relationships are at the heart of Clinical Research Pathways’ efforts to help improve health and well-being for all by increasing diversity in clinical research. New medicines cannot be effective for all populations unless those populations are equitably represented in clinical trials.

Right now, that’s not always the case. According to the most recent census and Food and Drug Administration data, black and African Americans make up 13.4% of the U.S. population but only 5% of clinical trial participants. Americans of Hispanic or Latino origin make up 18.1% of the U.S. population but only 1% of clinical trial participants.

Government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare and academic institutions, and others throughout the research community recognize the importance of increasing diversity in clinical trials, especially given changing U.S. demographics. The challenge, as with most complex issues, is that there is no single cause or solution. Organizations, including Clinical Research Pathways, are responding by working to identify and address the multiple factors involved.

Building trust and research capacity

Our emphasis is on building trust and research capacity by training and mentoring minority physicians to serve as clinical investigators. Currently, only 1.5% of physicians who receive National Institutes of Health research funding report their race as black or African American. Just 4.6% report their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino.

Why does this matter? Studies show that when care is equivalent, minority patients are more comfortable with a physician of the same race or ethnicity as them. Yet minority patients who could benefit from clinical trials have few options to enroll in a study conducted by a trusted physician who looks like them and has had similar life experiences.

Our signature initiative, “Training Minority Clinical Teams: Getting New Quality Medicines to All Americans,” tackles this challenge head on. We launched the program by partnering with Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), which has earned a national reputation as a culturally competent community partner. MSM’s Community Physicians’ Network presents significant opportunities to recruit and train minority physicians as clinical investigators—and to encourage them to reach out to patients as appropriate.

These physicians have the potential to make a tremendous difference. They are known to their patients and have already demonstrated, many times over, that their commitment is genuine. They have built a reservoir of trust that we simply could not provide on our own.

Equally important, MSM has safeguards and systems in place to address patient concerns about privacy and other ethical issues. As a former member of the Community Advisory Board of MSM’s Clinical Research Center, I’ve seen firsthand what it means to patients to learn that these protections exist.

In much the same way, as a presiding bishop and member of Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, I know that leaders of faith and other cultural brokers can set a powerful, positive example for their communities. If these leaders trust efforts to increase diversity in clinical trials—and improve health equity—that trust will spread beyond them to those who could benefit from participating in research.

Trust does not come quickly or easily. It develops one interaction at a time, and it can be bolstered or diminished by the experiences of friends, family members, and colleagues. That makes it essential that Clinical Research Pathways reach as many people as possible with our message about why diversity in clinical trials is so important—and why you can count on us as a trusted partner.

We’d like to count on you, as well. I encourage you to learn more about our diversity initiative. Once you do, I’m confident you’ll do your part to help us spread the word.

Blog post contributor Rev. Dr. Jason E. Owen, S.T.D., chairs the board of directors of Clinical Research Pathways. He is the founder, chief apostle, and international presiding bishop of Bible Deliverance Ministries, Inc., of Snellville, Georgia.