Variation across research ethics boards (REBs) in conditions placed on access to medical records for research purposes raises concerns around negative impacts on research quality and on human subject protection, including privacy.
To study variation in REB consent requirements for retrospective chart review and who may have access to the medical record for data abstraction.
Thirty 90-min face-to-face interviews were conducted with REB chairs and administrators affiliated with faculties of medicine in Canadian universities, using structured questions around a case study with open-ended responses. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and coded manually.
Fourteen sites (47%) required individual patient consent for the study to proceed as proposed. Three (10%) indicated that their response would depend on how potentially identifying variables would be managed. Eleven sites (38%) did not require consent. Two (7%) suggested a notification and opt-out process. Most stated that consent would be required if identifiable information was being abstracted from the record. Among those not requiring consent, there was substantial variation in recognising that the abstracted information could potentially indirectly re-identify individuals. Concern over access to medical records by an outside individual was also associated with requirement for consent. Eighteen sites (60%) required full committee review. Sixteen (53%) allowed an external research assistant to abstract information from the health record.
Large variation was found across sites in the requirement for consent for research involving access to medical records. REBs need training in best practices for protecting privacy and confidentiality in health research. A forum for REB chairs to confidentially share concerns and decisions about specific studies could also reduce variation in decisions.
In living kidney donation, transplant professionals consider the rights of a living kidney donor and recipient to keep their personal health information confidential and the need to disclose this information to the other for informed consent. In incompatible kidney exchange, personal health information from multiple living donors and recipients may affect decision making and outcomes.
We conducted a survey to understand and compare the preferences of potential donors (n = 43), potential recipients (n = 73), and health professionals (n = 41) toward sharing personal health information (in total 157 individuals).
When considering traditional live-donor transplantation, donors and recipients generally agreed that a recipient's health information should be shared with the donor (86 and 80%, respectively) and that a donor's information should be shared with the recipient (97 and 89%, respectively). When considering incompatible kidney exchange, donors and recipients generally agreed that a recipient's information should be shared with all donors and recipients involved in the transplant (85 and 85%, respectively) and that a donor's information should also be shared with all involved (95 and 90%, respectively). These results were contrary to attitudes expressed by transplant professionals, who frequently disagreed about whether such information should be shared.
Future policies and practice could facilitate greater sharing of personal health information in living kidney donation. This requires a consideration of which information is relevant, how to put it in context, and a plan to obtain consent from all concerned.
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Some persons at risk for Huntington disease (HD) seek predictive testing under the protection of anonymity to reduce the risk of insurance discrimination for themselves and their families. While Canadian and European health care systems seem to limit insurance discrimination to life and disability insurance, U.S. residents do not have national health insurance and are concerned about health insurance discrimination. Two persons residing outside Canada requested predictive testing anonymously. Their primary reason for doing so was to avoid the risks of medical insurance discrimination. After a detailed preparatory session and agreement to counselling and to receipt of results in person, we agreed to provide anonymous testing to these persons. One participant, whose psychological assessment was unremarkable, coped well with the predictive testing process and did not have the CAG expansion. The other participant had considerable emotional problems prior to testing, which necesitated postponement of discussion of results and referral for psychiatric assessment and support. Both participants had difficulty maintaining anonymity. The provision of anonymous predictive testing raises several problems. With anonymous testing, clinicians cooperate with participants to exclude insurance companies from information. This may invalidate the contract with insurance companies. A policy response by insurance companies or a universal health care system to protect individuals is preferable. Individuals who request anonymous testing may be precisely those most vulnerable and in need of additional support and counselling. However, the preservation of anonymity is a burden to participants and may frustrate the clinicians' ability to establish rapport in counselling and to provide appropriate follow-up typically available through genetic counselling in predictive testing programs.