Researchers’ views on, and experiences with, the requirement to obtain informed consent in research involving human participants: a qualitative study

Researchers’ views on, and experiences with, the requirement to obtain informed consent in research involving human participants: a qualitative study
Research Article
Antonia Xu, Melissa Therese Baysari, Sophie Lena Stocker, Liang Joo Leow, Richard Osborne Day & Jane Ellen Carland
BMC Medical Ethics, 2 October 2020; 21(93)
Open Access
Abstract
Background
Informed consent is often cited as the “cornerstone” of research ethics. Its intent is that participants enter research voluntarily, with an understanding of what their participation entails. Despite agreement on the necessity to obtain informed consent in research, opinions vary on the threshold of disclosure necessary and the best method to obtain consent. We aimed to investigate Australian researchers’ views on, and their experiences with, obtaining informed consent.
Methods
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 researchers from NSW institutions, working in various fields of research. Interviews were analysed and coded to identify themes.
Results
Researchers reported that consent involved information disclosure, understanding and a voluntary decision. They emphasised the variability of consent interactions, which were dependent on potential participants’ abilities and interests, study complexity and context. All researchers reported providing written information to potential participants, yet questioned the readability and utility of this information. The majority reported using signed consent forms to ‘operationalise’ consent and reported little awareness of, and lack of support in implementing more dynamic informed consent procedures, such as verbal informed consent, that was fit for the purposes of their studies. Views on Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs) varied. Some reported inconsistent, arduous inputs on the information form and consent process. Others expressed reliance on HRECs for guidance, viewing them as institutional safeguards.
Conclusions
This study highlights the importance of transparent relationships, both between researchers and participants, and between researchers and HRECs. Where the relationship with study participants was reported as more robust, researchers felt that they were better able to ensure participants made better, more informed decisions. Where the relationship with HRECs was reported as more robust, researchers were more likely to view them as institutional safeguards, rather than as bureaucratic hindrances. Conscientious and mindful researchers are paramount to ensuring the procedure accommodates individual requirements. This study advocates that when designing ethical informed consent practices, researchers should be integrated as autonomous players with a positive input on the process, rather than, in the worst case, predatory recruiters to be curtailed by information forms and oversight.

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