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Human subjects protection issues in QUERI implementation research: QUERI Series.

Chaney E, Rabuck LG, Uman J, Mittman DC, Simons C, Simon BF, Ritchie M, Cody M, Rubenstein LV. Human subjects protection issues in QUERI implementation research: QUERI Series. Implementation science : IS. 2008 Feb 15; 3:10.

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BACKGROUND: Human Subjects protections approaches, specifically those relating to research review board oversight, vary throughout the world. While all are designed to protect participants involved in research, the structure and specifics of these institutional review boards (IRBs) can and do differ. This variation affects all types of research, particularly implementation research. METHODS: In 2001, we began a series of inter-related studies on implementing evidence-based collaborative care for depression in Veterans Health Administration primary care. We have submitted more than 100 IRB applications, amendments, and renewals, and in doing so, we have interacted with 13 VA and University IRBs across the United States (U.S.). We present four overarching IRB-related themes encountered throughout the implementation of our projects, and within each theme, identify key challenges and suggest approaches that have proved useful. Where applicable, we showcase process aids developed to assist in resolving a particular IRB challenge. RESULTS: There are issues unique to implementation research, as this type of research may not fit within the traditional Human Subjects paradigm used to assess clinical trials. Risks in implementation research are generally related to breaches of confidentiality, rather than health risks associated with traditional clinical trials. The implementation-specific challenges discussed are: external validity considerations, Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles, risk-benefit issues, the multiple roles of researchers and subjects, and system-level unit of analysis. DISCUSSION: Specific aspects of implementation research interact with variations in knowledge, procedures, and regulatory interpretations across IRBs to affect the implementation and study of best methods to increase evidence-based practice. Through lack of unambiguous guidelines and local liability concerns, IRBs are often at risk of applying both variable and inappropriate or unnecessary standards to implementation research that are not consistent with the spirit of the Belmont Report (a summary of basic ethical principles identified by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research), and which impede the conduct of evidence-based quality improvement research. While there are promising developments in the IRB community, it is incumbent upon implementation researchers to interact with IRBs in a manner that assists appropriate risk-benefit determinations and helps prevent the process from having a negative impact on efforts to reduce the lag in implementing best practices.

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