Emergency department patients’ attitudes towards the use of data in their clinical record for research without their consent

Journal of Medical Ethics 49 (1):75-78 (2022)
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Abstract

BackgroundHealth research often uses health information, a subcategory of personal information, collected during clinical encounters. Conditions under which such health information can be used for the secondary purpose of research are set out in state, national and international law. In Australia, consent is required or the relevant conditions for a waiver of consent must be met and approved by a human research ethics committee (HREC). Consent for use of health information for research is rarely sought at an emergency department (ED) presentation. Research often occurs after the index visit and gaining consent can be difficult. Waiver of consent provisions are frequently used, but acceptability of this approach to patients is unclear.ObjectiveTo identify ED patients’ knowledge and attitudes towards the use of health information for research, consent preferences and acceptability of waiver of consent.MethodsAn online, anonymous survey of adult patients attending two large EDs in Melbourne, Australia.Results103 patients completed the survey. We found that 52% were unaware that health information might be used for research. A majority (77%) felt that HREC approval for use of health information without consent was acceptable. However, 36% would prefer to be contacted regarding consent.ConclusionThese findings suggest a lack of awareness that health information can be used for research and that waiver of consent is acceptable, but not necessarily preferred, in most of the ED patient population. Efforts to increase awareness and provide opportunities to express preferences about health information use for research are needed.

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