Exception from Informed Consent: Viewpoint of Institutional Review Boards—Balancing Risks to Subjects, Community Consultation, and Future Directions


Department of Emergency Medicine, University of New Mexico, MSC10 5560, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001. Fax: 505-823-0955; e-mail: aernst56@aol.com.


Differences in interpretation of the Final Rule for exception from informed consent (EFIC) requirements for emergency research result in inconsistencies in implementation and difficulties for some institutional review boards (IRBs) to approve such research. During a consensus workshop organized by the editorial board of Academic Emergency Medicine, participants discussed how IRBs balance the risks to human subjects in EFIC research, the conduct of community consultation and its role in IRB decision making, and future directions to improve and research EFIC effects. Areas of consensus and diversity of opinion were identified. During the workshop, the National Institutes of Health model of consensus building was used to develop statements pertaining to specific questions of the effects, directions, implementation, and ultimate goals for emergency research using EFIC. The program was composed of an overview of the history and issues related to EFIC or Final Rule research and presentations of viewpoints of experts in this area of research. A final consensus was developed regarding the major topics, including IRB perspective, effective community consultation (often considered the main difficulty in implementing EFIC research), and goals for future directions and research on the topic. Roundtable discussions and breakout sessions involving interested parties were used as a format. In regard to how IRBs balance risks, by consensus it was agreed the regulations stipulate that EFIC studies must involve treatment that is unproven or unsatisfactory. The committee agreed that resuscitation rates are currently unsatisfactory, and thus current treatments are unsatisfactory. Many treatments currently used as standard care have never been proven to be effective. IRBs and the public need education that resuscitation research is needed. The same can be said for other conditions to which this rule applies. Because IRB expertise differs across the country, a group of peer reviewers to act as consultants should be available to help IRBs determine if current treatment for a condition is unproven or unsatisfactory. In regard to community consultation, the experiences of others are important and helpful as guidance. The amount and formats of community consultation should correspond to the amount of risk involved in the study proposed. In regard to future directions, communities should be asked how they define “success” of community consultation and public disclosure. Research on community attitudes is critical. Ways to continue/add to research include the following: research including major National Institutes of Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding acquisition for evaluation of the clinical impact of EFIC research; education for research funding agencies about emergency research, including current outcomes (e.g., survival rates); participation of emergency medicine researchers in meetings of research ethicists/IRB members (Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research/Applied Research Ethics National Association); publication of experiences and of the effects of EFIC research; future update meetings such as this one at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine meeting; and more membership on IRBs of emergency physicians. While IRBs must approve EFIC research based on their own local environment, additional guidelines from regulatory agencies may be helpful. In general, current treatments for EFIC conditions are unsatisfactory and many are unproven. A group of peer reviewers can act as consultants to IRBs that do not have this expertise.