Informed consent is a process used by researchers to provide potential and enrolled participants with information about a clinical study. This information helps people decide whether they want to enroll or continue to participate in the study. The informed consent process is intended to protect participants and should provide enough information for a person to understand the risks of, potential benefits of, and alternatives to the study. In addition to the informed consent document, the process may involve recruitment materials, verbal instructions, question-and-answer sessions, and activities to measure participant understanding. In general, a person must sign an informed consent document before joining a study to show that he or she was given information on the risks, potential benefits, and alternatives and that he or she understands it. Signing the document and providing consent is not a contract. Participants may withdraw from a study at any time, even if the study is not over. See the Questions to Ask section on this page for questions to ask a health care provider or researcher about participating in a clinical study.
Further, each federally supported or conducted clinical study and each study of a drug, biological product, or medical device regulated by FDA must be reviewed, approved, and monitored by an institutional review board (IRB). An IRB is made up of doctors, researchers, and members of the community. Its role is to make sure that the study is ethical and that the rights and welfare of participants are protected. This includes making sure that research risks are minimized and are reasonable in relation to any potential benefits, among other responsibilities. The IRB also reviews the informed consent document.
In addition to being monitored by an IRB, some clinical studies are also monitored by data monitoring committees (also called data safety and monitoring boards).
Various federal agencies, including the Office of Human Subjects Research Protection and the FDA, have the authority to determine whether sponsors of certain clinical studies are adequately protecting research participants.