Public Approval of Exception From Informed Consent in Emergency Clinical Trials: A Systematic Review of Community Consultation Surveys

JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Jul 3;2(7):e197591. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.7591.


Importance: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created the exception from informed consent (EFIC) pathway in 1996 to allow some emergency trials to enroll patients without informed consent. To protect individual autonomy and preserve public trust, the FDA requires that EFIC trial investigators consult with community members before a trial may begin.

Objectives: To analyze data from surveys conducted as part of community consultation ahead of EFIC trials and assess levels of public approval.

Data sources: All trials granted an EFIC must submit documentation of compliance with EFIC regulations to a publicly available docket at the FDA. Submissions between November 1, 1996, and October 23, 2017, were reviewed.

Study selection: Trials with survey data were included.

Data extraction and synthesis: Data were extracted between January 2018 and June 2018 and were analyzed between June 2018 and August 2018. The quality and validity of data were assessed according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. A random-effects metaregression was used to assess the association of demographic characteristics with EFIC approval.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary study outcome was EFIC approval.

Results: The FDA docket contained 15 958 pages of material with survey data for 42 448 individuals submitted by 27 trials. Public approval of EFIC varied by question type, with more people willing to approve initiation of EFIC trials in their community (86.5%) than personal enrollment (73.0%), enrollment of a family member (68.6%), or the principle of enrollment without consent (58.4%) (P < .001 for all comparisons). In the United States, African American individuals made up 29.3% of those enrolled in EFIC trials that reported data on race (5064 of 17 302) but only 16.7% of those surveyed as part of community consultation. In the United States and Canada, men made up 42.9% of the surveyed population but 65.6% of those eventually enrolled in EFIC trials (29 961 of 45 694). Groups surveyed with higher proportions of African American and male respondents had lower rates of EFIC approval.

Conclusions and relevance: Public approval of EFIC trials varied by question type and by the respondents' reported race and sex. The demographic characteristics of those surveyed did not match the demographic characteristics of EFIC enrollees. The FDA could strengthen community consultation by standardizing survey instruments and reporting, requiring broader inclusion of African American and male respondents, clarifying the function of surveys in the development and modification of trial protocols, and building more public consensus around the acceptable use of EFIC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / psychology*
  • Community Participation / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Community Participation / psychology*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Informed Consent / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Research Subjects / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Research Subjects / psychology*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration