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      Response to written feedback of clinical data within a longitudinal study: a qualitative study exploring the ethical implications

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          There is a growing ethical imperative to feedback research results to participants but there remains a striking lack of empirical research on how people respond to individualised feedback. We sought to explore longitudinal study participants' response to receiving individual written feedback of weight-related and blood results, and to consider the balance of harms against benefits.


          A qualitative study with face-to-face and telephone interviews conducted with 50 men and women who had participated in the fifth and most recent wave of the cohort study 'West of Scotland Twenty-07' and received a feedback letter containing body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, cholesterol and glycated haemoglobin A 1c (HbA 1 c) results.


          Expectations of, and response to, the feedback of their individual results varied. Whilst half of the participants were on the whole 'pleased' with their results or held neutral views, half reported negative responses such as 'shock' or 'concern', particularly in relation to the weight-related results. Participants who were overweight and obese used the most negative language about their results, with some being quite distressed and reporting feelings of powerlessness, low self-image and anxiety over future health. Nevertheless, some people reported having implemented lifestyle changes in direct response to the feedback, resulting in significant weight-loss and/or dietary improvements. Others reported being motivated to change their behaviour. Age and gender differences were apparent in these narratives of behaviour change.


          The potential harm caused to some participants may be balanced against the benefit to others. More evaluation of the impact of the format, content and means of individualised feedback of research findings in non-trial studies is required given the growing ethical imperative to offer participants a choice of receiving their results, and the likelihood that a high percentage will choose to receive them.

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          Most cited references 14

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          The emergence of an ethical duty to disclose genetic research results: international perspectives.

          The last decade has witnessed the emergence of international ethics guidelines discussing the importance of disclosing global and also, in certain circumstances, individual genetic research results to participants. This discussion is all the more important considering the advent of pharmacogenomics and the increasing incidence of 'translational' genetic research in the post-genomic era. We surveyed both the literature and the ethical guidelines using selective keywords. We then analyzed our data using a qualitative method approach and singled out countries or policies that were representative of certain positions. From our findings, we conclude that at the international level, there now exists an ethical duty to return individual genetic research results subject to the existence of proof of validity, significance and benefit. Even where these criteria are met, the right of the research participant not to know also has to be taken into consideration. The existence of an ethical duty to return individual genetic research results begs several other questions: Who should have the responsibility of disclosing such results and when? To whom should the results be disclosed? How? Finally, will this ethical 'imperative' become a legally recognized duty as well?
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            Lay understanding of familial risk of common chronic diseases: a systematic review and synthesis of qualitative research.

            Although the family history is increasingly used for genetic risk assessment of common chronic diseases in primary care, evidence suggests that lay understanding about inheritance may conflict with medical models. This study systematically reviewed and synthesized the qualitative literature exploring understanding about familial risk held by persons with a family history of cancer, coronary artery disease, and diabetes mellitus. Twenty-two qualitative articles were found after a comprehensive literature search and were critically appraised; 11 were included. A meta-ethnographic approach was used to translate the studies across each other, synthesize the translation, and express the synthesis. A dynamic process emerged by which a personal sense of vulnerability included some features that mirror the medical factors used to assess risk, such as the number of affected relatives. Other features are more personal, such as experience of a relative's disease, sudden or premature death, perceived patterns of illness relating to gender or age at death, and comparisons between a person and an affected relative. The developing vulnerability is interpreted using personal mental models, including models of disease causation, inheritance, and fatalism. A person's sense of vulnerability affects how that person copes with, and attempts to control, any perceived familial risk. Persons with a family history of a common chronic disease develop a personal sense of vulnerability that is informed by the salience of their family history and interpreted within their personal models of disease causation and inheritance. Features that give meaning to familial risk may be perceived differently by patients and professionals. This review identifies key areas for health professionals to explore with patients that may improve the effectiveness of communication about disease risk and management.
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              Communicating the Results of Clinical Research to Participants: Attitudes, Practices, and Future Directions

              The authors discuss the available data on the effects of communicating aggregate and individual research results on participants, investigators, and the research enterprise.

                Author and article information

                BMC Med Res Methodol
                BMC Medical Research Methodology
                BioMed Central
                27 January 2011
                : 11
                : 10
                [1 ]MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, G12 8RZ, UK
                [2 ]Institute for Applied Health Research, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow, G4 0BA, UK
                [3 ]Alliance for Self Care Research, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK
                [4 ]Centre for Public Nutrition Research, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD1 4HN, UK
                Copyright ©2011 Lorimer et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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