Improving patient recruitment and consent to participate in clinical studies is an important issue. The process of consent involves three steps: patient referral for contact, the preliminary interview to determine patient interest, and the informed consent discussion. We hypothesized that putting the first step of the consent process into a 'Permission to Contact' (PTC) platform would improve patient engagement, would improve the efficiency of the other steps of the process, and would be acceptable to diverse patient groups.
Methods: To test this hypothesis, four PTC platforms were established in three types of outpatient health clinics (cancer, cardiac, maternal health) in different British Columbia health centers. Each began as a research project where clinic personnel were engaged, clinic flow processes were mapped, and a design for each PTC was derived by consensus. All patients at these clinics were asked for 'permission to be contacted for future research purposes.' Patient approach and permission response rates were assessed and operational costs were estimated.
Results: Overall permission rates were high for all projects, but ranged from 94% of 'cancer' patients to 80% of 'congenital heart' patients who were approached (p<0.0001). Sustainability was demonstrated by stable enrollment levels after several years, and ongoing costs averaged $25 (range $12-$39) for each 'permission' across all four platforms.
Conclusions: A PTC platform is a feasible mechanism to engage patients in research programs such as biobanking. It is well supported by clinic staff and receives high engagement and acceptance from patients. Patient-approach rates vary in different clinics, likely due to both clinic and PTC process factors, but this strategy provides an efficient means of engaging patients in research and sets the stage for enhanced enrollment into translational research programs.