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Central to the tenet of informed consent is the quality of disclosure of information by the investigator and the understanding thereof by the research subject or his or her surrogate. This study was designed to measure parents’ understanding of the elements of informed consent for clinical studies in which their children had been approached to participate.The study sample consisted of 505 parents who had been approached for permission to allow their child to participate in a clinical anesthesia or surgery study. Regardless of whether the parent consented (consenters, n = 411) or declined (nonconsenters, n = 94) to their child's participation in a study, they were interviewed to determine their understanding of 11 elements of consent. Two independent assessors who were familiar with the study protocols scored the parents’ levels of understanding.Parents perceived their overall understanding of the elements of consent as high (8.7 ± 1.6; 0–10 scale); however, this represented a significant overestimation compared with the assessors’ measures of parental understanding (7.3 ± 1.8;P < 0.0001). Furthermore, consenters had greater understanding than nonconsenters (7.6 ± 1.6 vs. 6.1 ± 1.9;P < 0.001). Several predictors of understanding were identified, including whether the parent consented, education level, clarity of disclosure, child in previous study, age of parent, parent listened to disclosure, and degree to which parent read the consent document. The day on which consent was sought had no impact on the level of understanding.Parents approached for permission to allow their child to participate in a research study had less than optimal understanding of the elements of consent. As such, investigators must make every effort to enhance understanding and ensure that parents have sufficient information to make informed decisions regarding their child's participation in research studies.