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Reconsidering 'minimal risk' to expand the repertoire of trials with waiver of informed consent for research.
Monach PA, Branch-Elliman W. Reconsidering 'minimal risk' to expand the repertoire of trials with waiver of informed consent for research. BMJ open. 2021 Sep 14; 11(9):e048534.
Progress in therapeutic research is slowed by the regulatory burden of clinical trials, which provide the best evidence for guiding treatment. There is a long delay from evidence generation to adoption, highlighting the need for designs that link evidence generation to implementation.
To identify clinical trial designs that confer minimal risk above that inherent in clinical care, to obviate the need for cumbersome consenting processes to enrol patients in prospective clinical research studies. These designs extend the scope of the Learning Healthcare System, a framework for leveraging retrospective ''big data'' to advance clinical research, to include data collected from prospective controlled trials.
Pragmatic trials may use simplified eligibility criteria, unblinded interventions and objective outcome measures that can all be monitored through the electronic health records (EHR), to reduce costs and speed study conduct. Most pragmatic trials continue to suffer from substantial regulatory burden. Written consent to participate in research can be waived only if the research produces minimal risk above what is encountered in everyday life. However, the ''consent'' processes for prescribing Federal Drug Administration-approved medications in clinical medicine are informal, even when they involve decisions of uncertain benefit and higher levels of risk. We propose that trial designs that mimic clinical decision-making in areas of uncertainty (clinical equipoise) and in which no data are generated outside of usual care (ideally by EHR embedding) confer minimal additional risk. Trial designs meeting this standard could, therefore, be conducted with minimal documentation of consent, even when interventions contain different risks. To align with risk encountered in clinical practice, allocation to treatment arms should change (adaptive randomisation) as data are collected and analysed. Embedding of informatics tools into the EHR has the additional benefit that, as adaptive randomisation progresses, evidence-generation transitions into implementation via decision-support tools-the ultimate realisation of the Learning Healthcare System.