Objective: To assess the efficacy, with respect to participant understanding of information, of a computer-based approach to communication about complex, technical issues that commonly arise when seeking informed consent for clinical research trials.
Design, setting and participants: An open, randomised controlled study of 60 patients with diabetes mellitus, aged 27-70 years, recruited between August 2006 and October 2007 from the Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology at the Alfred Hospital and Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne.
Intervention: Participants were asked to read information about a mock study via a computer-based presentation (n = 30) or a conventional paper-based information statement (n = 30). The computer-based presentation contained visual aids, including diagrams, video, hyperlinks and quiz pages.
Main outcome measures: Understanding of information as assessed by quantitative and qualitative means.
Results: Assessment scores used to measure level of understanding were significantly higher in the group that completed the computer-based task than the group that completed the paper-based task (82% v 73%; P = 0.005). More participants in the group that completed the computer-based task expressed interest in taking part in the mock study (23 v 17 participants; P = 0.01). Most participants from both groups preferred the idea of a computer-based presentation to the paper-based statement (21 in the computer-based task group, 18 in the paper-based task group).
Conclusions: A computer-based method of providing information may help overcome existing deficiencies in communication about clinical research, and may reduce costs and improve efficiency in recruiting participants for clinical trials.