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Open Access Research article

Obtaining subjects’ consent to publish identifying personal information: current practices and identifying potential issues

Akiko Yoshida1, Yuri Dowa12, Hiromi Murakami13 and Shinji Kosugi1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Ethics/Medical Genetics, Kyoto University School of Public Health, Yoshida-Konoe-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan

2 Department of pediatrics, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Shogoin-Kawara-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 6068507, Japan

3 Department of Clinical Genetics, Kyoto University Hospital, Shogoin-Kawara-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 6068507, Japan

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BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14:47  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-47

Published: 25 November 2013

Abstract

Background

In studies publishing identifying personal information, obtaining consent is regarded as necessary, as it is impossible to ensure complete anonymity. However, current journal practices around specific points to consider when obtaining consent, the contents of consent forms and how consent forms are managed have not yet been fully examined. This study was conducted to identify potential issues surrounding consent to publish identifying personal information.

Methods

Content analysis was carried out on instructions for authors and consent forms developed by academic journals in four fields (as classified by Journal Citation Reports): medicine general and internal, genetics and heredity, pediatrics, and psychiatry. An online questionnaire survey of editors working for journals that require the submission of consent forms was also conducted.

Results

Instructions for authors were reviewed for 491 academic journals (132 for medicine general and internal, 147 for genetics and heredity, 100 for pediatrics, and 112 for psychiatry). Approximately 40% (203: 74 for medicine general and internal, 31 for genetics and heredity, 58 for pediatrics, and 40 for psychiatry) stated that subject consent was necessary. The submission of consent forms was required by 30% (154) of the journals studied, and 10% (50) provided their own consent forms for authors to use. Two journals mentioned that the possible effects of publication on subjects should be considered. Many journal consent forms mentioned the difficulties in ensuring complete anonymity of subjects, but few addressed the study objective, the subjects’ right to refuse consent and the withdrawal of consent. The main reason for requiring the submission of consent forms was to confirm that consent had been obtained.

Conclusion

Approximately 40% of journals required subject consent to be obtained. However, differences were observed depending on the fields. Specific considerations were not always documented. There is a need to address issues around the study objective, subjects’ right to refuse consent and the withdrawal of consent. Whether responsibility for ensuring that the consent form has been signed lies with publishers also needs to be discussed.

Keywords:
Consent; Consent forms; Identifying information