Feasibility and cost of obtaining informed consent for essential review of medical records in large-scale health services research
To evaluate the effectiveness and cost of obtaining consent for review of medical records within the passively observed non-intervention arm of a cluster randomized controlled trial, 'Comparison Arm for ProtecT'.
Two hundred and thirty men, who had been notified to the trial by cancer registries as having prostate cancer, were sent a consent form from their general practitioner or secondary care clinician. The consent rate of participants to the review of their medical records and the estimated costs of the process were evaluated.
One hundred and seventy-nine men (84%: 95% CI = 78%, 89%) consented to have their medical notes reviewed at an estimated cost of pound123 (euro172, $248) per person.
A high consent rate for review of medical notes is achievable but at a cost. There needs to be renewed debate about the automatic need for consent to review medical records where the chance of personal harm is negligible and the purpose of the review is to provide robust evidence to save lives, prevent needless suffering, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of health care delivery.
Available from: PubMed Central
- "As there is no effect on the patient or their care from this type of secondary research, some researchers argue that consent for a review of the patient’s record is unnecessary [4,12-14], and that similar audit-based reviews of records are routinely undertaken by clinicians, without requiring separate informed consent [15,16]. It is claimed that NHS medical records are a comprehensive resource funded by public money and therefore should be used to further research for public benefit [1,13,16,17], and that the cost of consenting is too high and practical obstacles too great [18-20]. Researchers often note that many participants cannot be contacted because their clinician denies access, or they do not respond, while few potential participants actively refuse to take part [4,7,8,19]. "
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Opt-in consent is usually required for research, but is known to introduce selection bias. This is a particular problem for large scale epidemiological studies using only pre-collected health data. Most previous studies have shown that members of the public value opt-in consent and can perceive research without consent as an invasion of privacy. Past research has suggested that people are generally unaware of research processes and existing safeguards, and that education may increase the acceptability of research without prior informed consent, but this recommendation has not been formally evaluated. Our objectives were to determine the range of public opinion about the use of existing medical data for research and to explore views about consent to a secondary review of medical records for research. We also investigated the effect of the provision of detailed information about the potential effect of selection bias on public acceptability of the use of data for research.
We carried out a systematic review of existing literature on public attitudes to secondary use of existing health records identified by searching PubMed (1966-present), Embase (1974-present) and reference lists of identified studies to provide a general overview, followed by a qualitative focus group study with 19 older men recruited from rural and suburban primary care practices in the UK to explore key issues in detail.
The systematic review identified twenty-seven relevant papers and the findings suggested that males and older people were more likely to consent to a review of their medical data. Many studies noted participants’ lack of knowledge about research processes and existing safeguards and this was reflected in the focus groups. Focus group participants became more accepting of the use of pre-collected medical data without consent after being given information about selection bias and research processes. All participants were keen to contribute to NHS-related research but some were concerned about data-sharing for commercial gain and the potential misuse of information.
Increasing public education about research and specific targeted information provision could promote trust in research processes and safeguards, which in turn could increase the acceptability of research without specific consent where the need for consent would lead to biased findings and impede research necessary to improve public health.
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ABSTRACT: OBJECTIVE • To estimate rates of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing in UK general practices by age, deprivation index and geographical location. SUBJECTS AND METHODS • Practice-based, retrospective data on PSA testing patterns in 2007 were collected from a random sample of 87 general practices using EMIS LV computer systems within the passively observed non-intervention arm of a cluster-randomized controlled trial. • Information for a total of 126 716 men aged 45-89 years with no recorded diagnosis of prostate cancer prior to 1 January 2007 was collected. RESULTS • In all, 7902 (6.2%) of 126 716 men aged 45-89 without a prior diagnosis of prostate cancer underwent at least one PSA test from their general practitioner during 2007 [95% confidence interval (CI) 5.6-7.0%; practice-based inter-quartile range 3.6-8.4%]. • PSA testing rates were 1.4% (95% CI 1.1-1.6%) in men aged 45-49, rising to 11.3% (95% CI 10.0-12.9%) at age 75-79 years (P for trend <0.001). • Testing rates were lowest in the three northern centres (3.5-5.7%) vs the three more southern centres (7.1-8.9%; P < 0.001). • For every 20 points increase in the index of multiple deprivation score, the proportion of men tested fell by 1.7% (95% CI -2.5 to -0.8%; P < 0.001). • Lower proportions of men were subsequently diagnosed with prostate cancer in practices testing more men (odds ratio for a one unit increase in the natural log of testing 0.76; 95% CI 0.60-0.97; P= 0.025). CONCLUSION • Overall levels of PSA testing in UK general practice remain low, but for those tested there are important variations by age, deprivation and geographical location that do not appear to reflect clinical need or the intention of current policy. • PSA testing in general practice is currently skewed towards older men, and current policy enabling all men to make an informed choice about PSA testing is not being effectively implemented as uptake clearly varies by socioeconomic status. • This reinforces the need for robust evidence regarding the costs and benefits of using the PSA test for the detection of localized prostate cancer in the UK, a full assessment of the health economic implications and a revision of the current policy.
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