Passive consent for clinical research in the age of HIPAA

Original Articles

DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00339.x

Cite this article as:
Littenberg, B. & MacLean, C.D. J Gen Intern Med (2006) 21: 207. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00339.x


BACKGROUND: Federal laws and regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, intended primarily to protect individuals, have been described as significant barriers to the use of clinical registries and other population-based tools for health care research. Although these regulations allow for the waiver or alteration of usual consent procedures when the research meets certain specific criteria, waivers and alterations are rarely used in health care research.

METHODS: The Vermont Diabetes Information System is a multistate randomized trial of a quality improvement intervention that uses a novel alteration of informed consent to help ensure that the study sample is representative of the target population. Patients are notified by mail that they are eligible for the study and that they may opt out of the study, if they desire, by calling a toll-free number.

RESULTS: Seven thousand five hundred and fifty-eight patients were invited to participate. Two hundred and ten (2.8%) opted out. Three patients (0.04%) filed complaints, all of which were addressed satisfactorly.

CONCLUSIONS: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other federal regulations raise challenges to the use of clinical registries in research, but modifications to the consent process, including passive consent methods, are useful tools to overcome these challenges. It is possible to recruit a broad and representative population under current law while maintaining appropriate protections for research subjects.

Key words

ethics research informed consent Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act confidentiality privacy 

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of General Internal MedicineUniversity of Vermont College of MedicineBurlington

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