An evaluation of the process of informed consent: views from research participants and staff

An evaluation of the process of informed consent: views from research participants and staff
Lydia O’ Sullivan, Laura Feeney, Rachel K. Crowley, Prasanth Sukumar, Eilish McAuliffe, Peter Doran
Trials, 18 August 2021; 22(544)
Open Access
The process of informed consent for enrolment to a clinical research study can be complex for both participants and research staff. Challenges include respecting the potential participant’s autonomy and information needs while simultaneously providing adequate information to enable an informed decision. Qualitative research with small sample sizes has added to our understanding of these challenges. However, there is value in garnering the perspectives of research participants and staff across larger samples to explore the impact of contextual factors (time spent, the timing of the discussion and the setting), on the informed consent process.
Research staff and research participants from Ireland and the UK were invited to complete an anonymous survey by post or online (research participants) and online (research staff). The surveys aimed to quantify the perceptions of research participants and staff regarding some contextual factors about the process of informed consent. The survey, which contained 14 and 16 multiple choice questions for research participants and staff respectively, was analysed using descriptive statistics. Both surveys included one optional, open-ended question, which were analysed thematically.
Research participants (169) and research staff (115) completed the survey. Research participants were predominantly positive about the informed consent process but highlighted the importance of having sufficient time and the value of providing follow-up once the study concludes, e.g. providing results to participants. Most staff (74.4%) staff reported that they felt very confident or confident facilitating informed consent discussions, but 63% felt information leaflets were too long and/or complicated, 56% were concerned about whether participants had understood complex information and 40% felt that time constraints were a barrier. A dominant theme from the open-ended responses to the staff survey was the importance of adequate time and resources.
Research participants in this study were overwhelmingly positive about their experience of the informed consent process. However, research staff expressed concern about how much participants have understood and studies of patient comprehension of research study information would seem to confirm these fears. This study highlights the importance of allocating adequate time to informed consent discussions, and research staff could consider using Teach Back techniques.

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