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Open Access Research

Surrogate consent for critical care research: exploratory study on public perception and influences on recruitment

Daphne AFN Lim, Moon Fai Chan and Charmaine Childs*

Author Affiliations

Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore and National Health System, Level 2, Clinical Research Centre, Block MD11, 10 Medical Drive, 117597, Singapore

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Critical Care 2013, 17:R5  doi:10.1186/cc11927

Published: 15 January 2013

Abstract

Introduction

Critical Care research involves an increasing level of technical and clinical interventions for the unconscious patient. If the general public has a negative (unfavourable) view of surrogate consent, low recruitment rates are likely. Results bias will be introduced if study populations are small, hindering knowledge generation and transfer through research. In the rapidly expanding healthcare industry of South East Asia, opportunities for critical care research will grow given a positive willingness (favourability) by the general public to act as a surrogate in the consent process when the (unconscious) patient cannot consent for him/herself.

Methods

To determine public willingness for surrogate consent, a quantitative cross-sectional study was undertaken at a University Teaching Hospital in South East Asia during a three month interval. Four hypothetical critical care research scenarios were presented and responses from the public were analysed using a three-part questionnaire.

Results

Three hundred and five members of the public were recruited. In general, participants had a positive view of research. The level of education was significantly associated with a person's views about research especially in studies regarded as high risk. For low risk studies, a person's perception of research and willingness to be recruited to a study in the event that they were the (unconscious) patient, was the same whether they were the study subject or the person (legally acceptable representative) giving surrogate consent' on behalf of another (spouse, parent, child). Across all study scenarios, 60-80% of the public preferred to be approached by doctors to discuss the surrogate consent process.

Conclusion

Given the hypothetical scenarios presented in this study, the odds of a person having a positive view and willingness to be consented to a critical care research study on the advice of another (surrogate consent) was greater than for those who had a negative or unfavourable view. Nurses may be disadvantaged in leading on the recruitment process due to a preference for information to be delivered by medically qualified clinicians. In the setting of South East Asia, cultural attitudes to nurse-led research in critical care must be taken in to consideration in the multidisciplinary approaches to building the research team.