Driving equitable healthcare: The role of DE&I in clinical trials

May 22, 2024

In clinical trials, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is only becoming a bigger topic of conversation, consideration, and meaningful action. And for good reason, too. When we think about it, it speaks directly to what we all care about - fair healthcare. Because when DE&I is embedded at the heart of every trial, it becomes a driver for addressing healthcare inequities. And when we embrace it, we pave the path for positive outcomes in each and every trial, for each and every patient.  

So, what exactly can DE&I achieve for both patients and pharma?

Let’s break it down.

Healthcare isn’t a one size fits all

As we know, just like with anything in life, no two people experience the same event, in the same way.

And of course, healthcare is no exception.

There’s an undeniable distinctness to the patient experience, even when two people share the same condition. And so, it makes a lot of sense for us to make clinical trials inclusive, welcoming in patients with a variety of lived experience, age, sex, race, and sexual orientation. After all, this is how we get to truly personalised, effective care.1

We also get to paint a clearer picture for our researchers.

They can have access to the detail, the data, and the insight they need to understand how different interventions work. No doubt about it, clinical trials with a diverse participant pool are more likely to generate data reflecting the true safety and efficacy of a potential medicine right across the patient population, including specific subgroups. If we don’t get the right representation, we don’t have what we need at our fingertips to translate results and findings across all patient demographics. And this is what’s vital to lead us to effective solutions that can change lives for the better, for as many people as possible. In the end, knowledge is power. 2

Making sure every voice counts

Imagine if everyone, regardless of where they come from or who they are, has equal chance at accessing life-saving treatments. That’s what DE&I in clinical trials helps achieve. It levels the playing field, offering hope to people in the midst of a serious condition like cancer. It gives them the best chance at receiving cutting-edge care, especially when traditional therapies may be falling short. 3

But it’s not just about giving access.

It’s about giving a voice to those who have gone unheard. Allowing people from underrepresented communities to share their stories, needs, and concerns. Making sure their voices are not only heard but woven into the fabric of healthcare research. Through their contributions and this collaborative approach, we make sure the development of new treatments isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Because how could it be? Instead, we get to bring about personalised care that sees the whole of the patient. Not only creating better treatments, but a healthcare system that’s designed for everyone. 4

What about pharma?

It’s likely what we’ve said so far sounds familiar to you.

But why is it so many clinical trials still find it challenging to recruit from diverse populations? How can we shift towards a new standard where studies reflect the needs of a wide range of patients? Not just those who live nearby to hospitals, can take time off work for study visits, and have doctors who are well-connected to the latest trial, advocating on their behalf?

These are all good questions.

Recruiting the right range of people into the right trial isn’t without its challenges.

Language barriers as well as health literacy barriers need to be considered. Because patients can’t engage in the way we need, if they don’t understand what’s expected each step of the way. So, it’s important to consider thoughtful communication strategies that make the complicated simple.

How does DE&I improve perceptions of the pharma industry?

Remember us talking about how the public sometimes views the pharma industry as a little mysterious? If not, here’s a quick refresher.

Why does the perception conversation fall into this? Well, by showing everyone we’re committed to prioritising equal access to new treatments and therapies, not for one type of person, but for all, we’re not just lifting the veil on what we do, but what we stand for. Earning trust. 5

By prioritising DE&I we also build stronger partnerships with the wider community. Partnerships that will only enhance the patient experience.

Because it’s clear, companies who do this are viewed favourably by all kinds of stakeholders. Whether it’s healthcare providers, advocacy groups, or investors. Further strengthening these bonds and relationships will only result in improved cultural competencies and sensitivities. Encouraging patients to feel welcome and at home. And ultimately, all of this supports trial recruitment and retention. Sounds promising, right? 6

We’re not the only ones who agree. Regulatory bodies see the importance too. Last year, the FDA passed new legislation asking for all study sponsors to submit a diversity action plan for Phase 3 or pivotal studies of new potential treatments. 7  

Closing the healthcare gap

It’s no secret.

In the landscape of healthcare, reputation means a lot, and that’s a good thing. A great deal is at stake, after all. But when companies champion DE&I, they aren’t just seen as the do-gooders, but so much more than that. They become the thoughtful leaders shaping the way for a more inclusive future.

And when underrepresented communities join clinical trials, they’re not just participants — they become advocates for their own health. Their voices make sure healthcare research considers their unique needs and challenges.

Because by making sure everyone has a seat at the table, we’re not just breaking barriers. We’re building bridges to better healthcare. For everyone.


  1. NIH. Diversity and Inclusion in Clinical Trials. Available here. Accessed May 2024.
  2. Clinical Research News. The Importance of Diversity in Clinical Trials: A Comprehensive Analysis. Available here. Accessed May 2024.
  3. ASCO Publications. Equitable Access to Clinical Trials: How Do We Achieve It? Available here. Accessed May 2024.
  4. Shea L, et al. Health Expect. 2022; 25(4): 1979-1987.
  5. Peters U, et al. Ther Innov Regul Sci. 2023; 57(2): 186-195.
  6. Bodicoat DH, et al. Methodology. 2021; 22(1): 880.
  7. Appropriate senate. Available here. Accessed May 2024.

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