Informing a European guidance framework on electronic informed consent in clinical research: a qualitative study

BMC Health Serv Res. 2023 Feb 21;23(1):181. doi: 10.1186/s12913-023-09173-5.


BACKGROUND: Electronic informed consent (eIC) may offer various advantages compared to paper-based informed consent. However, the regulatory and legal landscape related to eIC provides a diffuse image. By drawing from the perspectives of key stakeholders in the field, this study aims to inform the creation of a European guidance framework on eIC in clinical research.

METHODS: Focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 participants from six stakeholder groups. The stakeholder groups included representatives of ethics committees, data infrastructure organizations, patient organizations, and the pharmaceutical industry as well as investigators and regulators. All were involved in or knowledgeable about clinical research and were active in one of the European Union Member States or at a pan-European or global level. The framework method was used for data analysis.

RESULTS: Stakeholders underwrote the need for a multi-stakeholder guidance framework addressing practical elements related to eIC. According to the stakeholders, a European guidance framework should describe consistent requirements and procedures for implementing eIC on a pan-European level. Generally, stakeholders agreed with the definitions of eIC issued by the European Medicines Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration. Nevertheless, it was raised that, in a European guidance framework, it should be emphasized that eIC aims to support rather than replace the personal interaction between research participants and the research team. In addition, it was believed that a European guidance framework should include details on the legality of eIC across European Union Member States and the responsibilities of an ethics committee in the eIC assessment process. Although stakeholders supported the idea to include detailed information on the type of eIC-related materials to be submitted to an ethics committee, opinions varied on this regard.

CONCLUSION: The creation of a European guidance framework is a much needed factor to advance eIC implementation in clinical research. By collecting the views of multiple stakeholder groups, this study advances recommendations that may facilitate the development of such a framework. Particular consideration should go to harmonizing requirements and providing practical details related to eIC implementation on a European Union-wide level.

PMID:36810088 | PMC:PMC9942635 | DOI:10.1186/s12913-023-09173-5


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