Public Health Ethics
Volume 11, Issue 2, 1 July 2018
Special Symposium on Public Mental Health Ethics
The Acceptability of Online Consent in a Self-Test Serosurvey of Responders to the 2014–2016 West African Ebola Outbreak
Catherine R McGowan; Catherine F Houlihan; Patricia Kingori; Judith R Glynn
Public Health Ethics, Volume 11, Issue 2, 1 July 2018, Pages 201–212, https://doi.org/10.1093/phe/phx027
Online participation in research is used increasingly to recruit geographically dispersed populations. Obtaining online consent is convenient, yet we know little about the acceptability of this practice. We carried out a serostudy among personnel returning to the UK/Ireland following deployment to West Africa during the 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic. We used an online procedure for consenting returnees and designed a small descriptive study to understand: how much of the consent material they read, how informed they felt and if they preferred online to traditional face-to-face consent. Of 261 returnees, 111 (43 per cent) completed the consent survey. Participants indicated a high level of engagement with the consent materials, with 67 per cent reporting having read all and 20 per cent having read ‘most’ of the materials. All participants indicated feeling completely (78 per cent) or mostly (22 per cent) informed about the purpose, methods and intended uses of the research, as well as what participation was required and what risks were involved. Only three participants indicated a preference for face-to-face consent. Free-text comments suggested that online consent may be an acceptable modality for uncomplicated and low-risk studies. The study sample was largely composed of health professionals, suggesting acceptability of online consent within this population.