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J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Jan;23 Suppl 1:27-31. doi: 10.1007/s11606-007-0410-2.

Evaluation of clinical innovation: a gray zone in the ethics of modern clinical practice?

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Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada.



Various stakeholders can have differing opinions regarding ethical review when introducing new procedures with patients.


This pilot study examines the way in which Research Ethics Boards (REBs; Institutional Review Boards) and clinical biochemists (CBs; laboratory medicine specialists) differ in their interpretation of what is research and what should be considered common practice versus innovation versus experimentation when introducing new procedures with patients. It also explores whether these groups agree on who is responsible for the ethical review of new procedures.


A validated case scenario for the introduction of a new diagnostic test into clinical practice was sent to CBs and REBs across Canada. Participants were asked to determine whether the scenario constituted research; whether the test procedure should be considered as experimental, innovative, or commonly accepted care; and whether the project required approval by a REB and, if not, who should be responsible for ethical review.


Results showed 81% of 37 CBs and 52% of 27 REBs identified the scenario as research. Responsibility for ethical review was assigned to REBs by 44% of REBs and 54% of CBs. Of all participants, 53% classified the test procedure as 'innovative', 8% as 'experimental', whereas 17% classified it as 'commonly accepted'.


This pilot study indicates a substantial variation in the ethical assessment of innovation in clinical care. This suggests the need to further elaborate on the types of innovation in health care and categorize the nature of the risks associated with each.

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