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Acad Emerg Med. 1996 Aug;3(8):804-9.

Structure and practice of institutional review boards in the United States.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Butterworth Hospital, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, USA. 70602.706@compuserve.com



The institutional review board (IRB) is a critical element in the protection of patients' and subjects' rights with regard to their participation in research protocols. The purpose of this study was to describe the structure and current practices of IRBs in the United States.


A self-administered questionnaire was mailed to the IRB chair of each U.S. hospital with a capacity of at least 400 beds (n = 907). The survey contained 21 questions outlining committee size and structure, review of research proposals, and policies concerning scientific misconduct. Chairs also were asked what advice they would offer a young investigator preparing a proposal for submission.


A total of 488 surveys (54%) were returned; 447 of the responding institutions had an IRB committee. Committees had an average of 14 members, representing 27 medical specialties. Orthopedics had the least IRB representation (10% of committees), followed by emergency medicine (12%) and ophthalmology (15%). The majority of research proposals go through 5 specific steps once submitted for review. Common reasons for proposal rejection were improperly designed consent form (54%), poor study design (44%), unacceptable risk to subjects (34%), ethical or legal reasons (24%), and scientific merit (14%). When a research proposal is rejected, 86% of the responding IRBs assist the investigator in making appropriate revisions. Although a number of IRBs (17%) have dealt with scientific misconduct allegations, only 58% have a written policy regarding research integrity.


Despite variations in committee structure and representation, IRBs have similar procedures for governing research. Investigators should be familiar with these procedures and are encouraged to discuss their proposal with an IRB representative prior to formal review.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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