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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Ethical Guidelines for Observational Studies


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Foreword to the 2012 edition
These Guidelines were first released in 2006; the current document is a revision. The Health Committee’s inquiry into improving New Zealand’s environment to support innovation through clinical trials (June 2011) resulted in significant changes to the ethics review process, as reflected in the revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Health and Disability Ethics Committees.

This 2012 revision aims to provide consistency with the SOPs. These Guidelines have been updated to remove process guidance, and ensure that policy previously included in the Operational Standard for Ethics Committees is now addressed by these Guidelines. The revision did not fundamentally change the existing ethical standards and principles set out in these Guidelines.

As previously, the Guidelines are directed primarily to investigators, who have the main ethical responsibility for good study conduct. But the Guidelines also continue to be directed to others with a role in health and disability research ethics – particularly the ethics committees that review studies against established ethical standards. The key objectives of developing national ethical guidelines are to…


Foreword to the 2012 edition iii
Foreword to the 2006 edition iv

1 Introduction 1

2 Guidelines scope and definitions 3
Types of observational research 3
Types of audit or related activity 4

3 Ethics of observational studies 6
Worth of observational studies 6
Ethical requirements of observational studies 6

4 Underlying ethical considerations 8
Respect for people 8
Māori and ethical considerations 8
Justice 9
Beneficence and non-maleficence 9
Integrity 10
Diversity 10
Conflict of interest 10

5 Design of study and protocol 11
Study question 11
Study design 11
Scientifically sound 11
Skills and resources 12
Protocol 12

6 Collecting health information 13
Identifiability of health information 13
Collection of health information directly from individuals 14
Collection of health information from a third party 18

7 Use of information 20

8 Confidentiality of data 21
General considerations 21
Record linkage 22

9 When to reveal information obtained by observational studies 23

10 Communicating study results 24

11 Features of observational studies that pose more than minimal risk 25

12 Additional points 27
Bibliography 28

Joint Health Research Council and NEAC guidance on features of robust peer review for assessing the scientific validity of research 30

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