Objective: To characterize variation in the institutional review board application process of a multicenter, observational critical care study.
Design, setting, and subjects: Survey analysis of 36 investigators who applied for participation in the United States Critical Illness and Injury Trials Group: Critical Illness and Outcomes Study, an observational study of 69 adult ICUs.
Measurements and main results: Analysis of investigator-specific characteristics, institutional review board process, application and approval dates, and level of difficulty in obtaining approval. Surveys were analyzed from 36 sites (95%) that applied for institutional review board approval. Level of review ranged from full board, expedited, to exempt. Seventy-five percent of applications were submitted by an experienced investigator while 25% were submitted by a less experienced investigator. Median time to institutional review board approval was 30 days (interquartile range, 14-54) and ranged from 5 days to 5.5 months. Time to approval was 29 days (interquartile range, 17-48) for applications submitted by an experienced investigator compared with 97 days (interquartile range, 25-159) for those submitted by a less experienced investigator (p = 0.08). Subjective level of difficulty was significantly higher for less experienced investigators (4 of 10; interquartile range, 2-8) vs experienced investigators (2 of 10; interquartile range, 1-3) (p = 0.04). Four sites cited institutional review board concern regarding waiver of consent as a major barrier to approval and were required to perform revisions or participate in board meetings regarding this concern.
Conclusions: In a multicenter, observational critical care study, significant variation was observed between sites in all aspects of the institutional review board evaluation and approval process. The level of difficulty was significantly higher for less experienced investigators with a trend toward longer time to institutional review board approval. Variation in institutional review board interpretation of waiver of informed consent regulations was cited as a major barrier to approval.