Points of contention: Qualitative research identifying where researchers and research ethics committees disagree about consent waivers for secondary research with tissue and data.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:This is a multi-method, in-depth, three part qualitative study exploring the regulation and practice of secondary research with tissue and data in a high-income country. We explore and compare the perspectives of researchers, research ethics committees (RECs) and other relevant professionals (e.g. pathologists and clinicians). We focus on points of contention because they demonstrate misalignment between the expectations, values and assumptions of these stakeholders. METHODS:This is a multi-method study using observational research, focus groups and interviews with 42 participants (conducted 2016-2017) and analyzed using thematic analysis. RESULTS:Results are arranged under the following themes: consent; balancing the social value of the research with consent requirements; and harm. Our findings demonstrate different perspectives on the review process, styles of ethical reasoning and issues of concern. First, researchers and RECs disagreed about whether the cost of re-consenting patients satisfied the criterion of impracticability for consent waivers. Second, most researchers were skeptical that secondary research with already collected tissue and data could harm patients. Researchers often pointed to the harm arising from a failure to use existing material for research. RECs were concerned about the potential for secondary research to stigmatize communities. Third, researchers adopted a more consequentialist approach to decision-making, including some willingness to trade off the benefit of the research against the cost of getting consent; whereas RECs were more deontological and typically considered research benefit only after it had been established that re-consent was impractical. CONCLUSION:This research highlights ways in which RECs and researchers may be talking past each other, resulting in confusion and frustration. These finding provide a platform for realignment of the expectations of RECs and researchers, which could contribute to making research ethics review more effective.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the biomedical research community's attempt to focus the attention on fighting COVID-19, led to several challenges within the field of research ethics. However, we know little about the practical relevance of these challenges for Research Ethics Committees (RECs).<h4>Methods</h4>We conducted a qualitative survey across all 52 German RECs on the challenges and potential solutions with reviewing proposals for COVID-19 studies. We de-identified the answers and applied thematic text analysis for the extraction and synthesis of challenges and potential solutions that we grouped under established principles for clinical research ethics.<h4>Results</h4>We received an overall response rate of 42%. The 22 responding RECs reported that they had assessed a total of 441 study proposals on COVID-19 until 21 April 2020. For the review of these proposals the RECs indicated a broad spectrum of challenges regarding (1) social value (e.g. lack of coordination), (2) scientific validity (e.g. provisional study planning), (3) favourable risk-benefit ratio (e.g. difficult benefit assessment), (4) informed consent (e.g. strict isolation measures), (5) independent review (e.g. lack of time), (6) fair selection of trial participants (e.g. inclusion of vulnerable groups), and (7) respect for study participants (e.g. data security). Mentioned solutions ranged from improved local/national coordination, over guidance on modified consent procedures, to priority setting across clinical studies.<h4>Conclusions</h4>RECs are facing a broad spectrum of pressing challenges in reviewing COVID-19 studies. Some challenges for consent procedures are well known from research in intensive care settings but are further aggravated by infection measures. Other challenges such as reviewing several clinical studies at the same time that potentially compete for the recruitment of in-house COVID-19 patients are unique to the current situation. For some of the challenges the proposed solutions in our survey could relatively easy be translated into practice. Others need further conceptual and empirical research. Our findings together with the increasing body of literature on COVID-19 research ethics, and further stakeholder engagement should inform the development of hands-on guidance for researchers, funders, RECs, and further oversight bodies.
Project description:<h4>Objective</h4>Clinical trials and studies in intensive care units (ICUs) have complex consent processes and often encounter problems in recruiting patients. By interviewing research team members about the challenges in critical care research, we aimed to identify strategies to enhance recruitment and consent to ICU studies.<h4>Methods</h4>Semistructured interviews with UK-based researchers (N=17) and patient-public involvement (PPI) contributors (N=8) with experience of ICU studies. Analysis of transcripts of audio-recorded interviews drew on thematic approaches.<h4>Results</h4>Seven themes were identified. Participants emphasised the need for substitute decision-making processes in critical care studies, yet some researchers reported that research ethics committees (RECs) were reluctant to approve such processes. Researchers spoke about the potential benefits of research without prior consent (RWPC) for studies with narrow recruitment windows but believed RECs would not approve them. Participants indicated that the activity of PPI contributors was limited in critical care studies, though researchers who had involved PPI contributors more extensively were clear that their input when designing consent processes was important. Researchers and PPI contributors pointed to resource and staffing limitations as barriers to patient recruitment. Researchers varied in whether and how they used professional consultees as substitute decision-makers, in whether they approached families by telephone to discuss research and in whether they disclosed details of research participation to bereaved relatives.<h4>Conclusion</h4>Critical care research could benefit from RECs having expertise in consent processes that are suited to this setting, better staffing at research sites, more extensive PPI and an evidence base on stakeholder perspectives on critical care research processes. Guidance on professional consultee processes, telephoning relatives to discuss research, RWPC and disclosure of research participation to bereaved relatives could help to harmonise practice in these areas and enhance recruitment and consent to critical care studies.
Project description:Randomised controlled trials, a gold-standard approach to reduce uncertainties in clinical practice, are growing in cost and are often slow to recruit. We determined whether methodological approaches to facilitate large, efficient clinical trials were acceptable to UK research ethics committees (RECs).We developed a protocol in collaboration with parents, for a comparative-effectiveness, randomised controlled trial comparing two widely used blood transfusion practices in preterm infants. We incorporated four approaches to improve recruitment and efficiency: (i) point-of-care design using electronic patient records for patient identification, randomisation and data acquisition, (ii) short two-page information sheet; (iii) explicit mention of possible inclusion benefit; (iv) opt-out consent with enrolment as the default. With the support of the UK Health Research Authority, we submitted an identical protocol to 12 UK REC.RECs in the UK.Number of REC granting favourable opinions.The use of electronic patient records was acceptable to all RECs; one REC raised concerns about the short parent information sheet, 10 about inclusion benefit and 9 about opt-out consent. Following responses to queries, nine RECs granted a favourable final opinion and three rejected the application because they considered the opt-out consent process invalid.A majority of RECs in this study consider the use of electronic patient record data, short information sheets, opt-out consent and mention of possible inclusion benefit to be acceptable in neonatal comparative-effectiveness research. We identified a need for guidance for RECs in relation to opt-out consent processes. These methods provide opportunity to facilitate large randomised controlled trials.
Project description:Informed consent is crucial in research, but potential participants may not all speak the same language, posing questions that have not been examined concerning decisions by institutional review boards (IRBs) and research ethics committees' (RECs) about the need for researchers to translate consent forms and other study materials. Sixty US IRBs (every fourth one in the list of the top 240 institutions by The National Institutes of Health funding) were contacted, and leaders (eg, chairs) from 34 (response rate=57%) and an additional 12 members and administrators were interviewed. IRBs face a range of problems about translation of informed consent documents, questionnaires and manuals-what, when and how to translate (eg, for how many or what proportion of potential subjects), why to do so and how to decide. Difficulties can arise about translation of specific words and of broader cultural concepts regarding processes of informed consent and research, especially in the developing world. In these decisions, IRBs weigh the need for autonomy (through informed consent) and justice (to ensure fair distribution of benefits and burdens of research) against practical concerns about costs to researchers. At times IRBs may have to compromise between these competing goals. These data, the first to examine when and how IRBs/RECs require researchers to translate materials, thus highlight a range of problems with which these committees struggle, suggesting a need for further normative and empirical investigation of these domains, and consideration of guidelines to help IRBs deal with these tensions.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Marginalized communities often attract more than their share of research. Too often, this research benefits researchers disproportionately and leaves such communities feeling exploited, misrepresented, and exhausted. The Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighborhood of Vancouver, Canada, has been the site of multiple public health epidemics related to injection drug use as well as the site of much community-led resistance and struggle that has led to the development of cutting-edge harm reduction interventions (e.g., North America's first supervised injection facility, Insite) and a strong sense of community organization. This background has made the DTES one of the most heavily researched communities in the world. Amidst ongoing experiences of unethical or disrespectful research engagement in the neighborhood, a collaboration between local academic researchers and community representatives developed to explore how we could work together to encourage more respectful, community-responsive research and discourage exploitative or disrespectful research. METHODS:We developed a series of six weekly workshops called "Research 101." These workshops brought together approximately 13 representatives from peer-based organizations in the DTES with a variety of experiences with research. Research 101 created space for community members themselves to discuss the pitfalls and potential of research in their neighborhood and to express community expectations for more ethical and respectful research. RESULTS:We summarized workshop discussions in a co-authored "Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside." This document serves as a resource to empower community organizations to develop more equitable partnerships with researchers and help researchers ground their work in the principles of locally developed "community ethics." Manifesto guidelines include increased researcher transparency, community-based ethical review of projects, empowering peer researchers in meaningful roles within a research project, and taking seriously the need for reciprocity in the research exchange. CONCLUSIONS:Research 101 was a process for eliciting and presenting a local vision of "community ethics" in a heavily researched neighborhood to guide researchers and empower community organizations. Our ongoing work involves building consensus for these guidelines within the community and communicating these expectations to researchers and ethics offices at local universities. We also describe how our Research 101 process could be replicated in other heavily researched communities.
Project description:Linguistic and cultural differences can impede comprehension among potential research participants during the informed consent process, but how researchers and IRBs respond to these challenges in practice is unclear. We conducted in-depth interviews with 15 researchers, research ethics committee (REC) chairs and members from 8 different countries with emerging economies, involved in HIV-related research sponsored by HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), regarding the ethical and regulatory challenges they face in this regard. In the interviews, problems with translating study materials often arose as major concerns. Four sets of challenges were identified concerning linguistic and cultural translations of informed consent documents and other study materials, related to the: (1) context, (2) process, (3) content and (4) translation of these documents. Host country contextual issues included low literacy rates, education (e.g., documents may need to be written below 5th grade reading level), and experiences with research, and different views of written documentation. Certain terms and concepts may not exist in other languages, or have additional connotations that back translations do not always reveal. Challenges arise because of not only the content of word-for-word, literal translation, but the linguistic form of the language, such as tone (e.g., appropriate forms of politeness vs. legalese, seen as harsh), syntax, manner of questions posed, and the concept of the consent); and the contexts of use affect meaning. Problems also emerged in bilateral communications--US IRBs may misunderstand local practices, or communicate insufficiently the reasons for their decisions to foreign RECs. In sum, these data highlight several challenges that have received little, if any, attention in past literature on translation of informed consent and study materials, and have crucial implications for improving practice, education, research and policy, suggesting several strategies, including needs for broader open-source multilingual lexicons, and more awareness of the complexities involved.
Project description:Big data trends in health research challenge the oversight mechanism of the Research Ethics Committees (RECs). The traditional standards of research quality and the mandate of RECs illuminate deficits in facing the computational complexity, methodological novelty, and limited auditability of these approaches. To better understand the challenges facing RECs, we explored the perspectives and attitudes of the members of the seven Swiss Cantonal RECs via semi-structured qualitative interviews. Our interviews reveal limited experience among REC members with the review of big data research, insufficient expertise in data science, and uncertainty about how to mitigate big data research risks. Nonetheless, RECs could strengthen their oversight by training in data science and big data ethics, complementing their role with external experts and ad hoc boards, and introducing precise shared practices.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>To present empirical data on how the variation in regulating clinical research and patient care was perceived in Finland between 2009 and 2012.<h4>Methods</h4>Notes of interviews with 22 research ethics committee (REC) chairpersons were analyzed to identify whether differences in the regulation of clinical research and patient care were addressed. REC chairpersons' opinions on three imaginary cases of clinical research projects challenging current research ethics rules (vignettes) were requested with a questionnaire; 18 of the 22 interviewed chairpersons responded.<h4>Results</h4>Based on REC chairpersons' interviews, the differences between care and research regulation were not considered important issues in Finland. In the vignettes, REC chairpersons' assumptions on how their REC would decide varied in regard to allowing research without informed consent, while solutions that are not allowed by current law were even anticipated. Mostly, but not always, the chairpersons' own personal view agreed with their REC.<h4>Conclusions</h4>The distinction between care and research regulation has not been publicly challenged by Finnish RECs, even though it is a challenge when research relevant to health care is carried out. There is a need for debate and changes in laws and practices.
Project description:The review of human participant research by Research Ethics Committees (RECs) or Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) is a complex multi-faceted process that cannot be reduced to an algorithm. However, this does not give RECs/ IRBs permission to be inconsistent in their specific requirements to researchers or in their final opinions. In England the Health Research Authority (HRA) coordinates 67 committees, and has adopted a consistency improvement plan including a process called "Shared Ethical Debate" (ShED) where multiple committees review the same project. Committee reviews are compared for consistency by analysing the resulting minutes.We present a description of the ShED process. We report an analysis of minutes created by research ethics committees participating in two ShED exercises, and compare them to minutes produced in a published "mystery shopper" exercise. We propose a consistency score by defining top themes for each exercise, and calculating the ratio between top themes and total themes identified by each committee for each ShED exercise.Our analysis highlights qualitative differences between the ShED 19, ShED 20 and "mystery shopper" exercises. The quantitative measure of consistency showed only one committee across the three exercises with more than half its total themes as top themes (ratio of 0.6). The average consistency scores for the three exercises were 0.23 (ShED19), 0.35 (ShED20) and 0.32 (mystery shopper). There is a statistically significant difference between the ShED 19 exercise, and the ShED 20 and mystery shopper exercises.ShED exercises are effective in identifying inconsistency between ethics committees and we describe a scoring method that could be used to quantify this. However, whilst a level of inconsistency is probably inevitable in research ethics committee reviews, studies must move beyond the ShED methodology to understand why inconsistency occurs, and what an acceptable level of inconsistency might be.
Project description:The informed-consent process should be one of meaningful information exchange between researchers and study participants. One of the responsibilities of research ethics committees is to oversee appropriate informed consent. The committee must consider various matters before deciding whether the process is appropriate, including the adequacy and completeness of the written information provided to study participants, and the process of obtaining informed consent. This study aimed to identify, quantitatively and qualitatively, consent-related issues in different types of malaria proposals submitted to the Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Ethics Committee.This study reviewed proposal documentation submitted to two panels of the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, from 2011 to 2015. The documentation included proposals, notifications to researchers of review outcomes and ethical issues of concern to committee members. Each element of the informed-consent process was identified and analyzed by study classification, design, and specimen use, including whether the study involved a vulnerable population. Summative content analysis was used to analyze patterns of common issues raised in reviews.Of the 112 proposals reviewed, 63 required an informed consent process. All researchers proposed communicating with their study participants; however, about two-thirds needed to improve their explanations of study procedures (study activities and specimen/data-collection process) to participants. About 40% of the proposals attracted comments on informed-consent process elements--risk and discomfort, vulnerable status, and compensation. Studies that planned to collect or use new/linked specimens raised more issues around informed consent than studies using linked data/records. Studies that involved vulnerable populations raised more issues than those that did not. The committee usually asked researchers to clarify, elaborate, revise, or paraphrase the consent process elements that were considered to involve inadequate information exchange between researcher and study participant.This study aimed to describe lessons for malaria researchers about common informed-consent process issues in different types of malaria proposals. The information and analysis of informed-consent elements should assist the preparation of malaria-research proposals.