700. Reporting Complaints, Deviations, Noncompliance, or Problems

Situations may occur during implementation of a research study, after a participant withdraws or completes her/his participation, or after study completion that warrant assessment by Research Integrity (RI) and possibly, review by the IRB. These include complaints from participants or others, unapproved changes in the conduct of a research study, serious events or problems experienced by research participants, new information that suggests research risks or benefits have changed, breaches of participant privacy or data confidentiality, and sponsor or other external reports that suggest a problem may exist.

Anyone (i.e., participants, members of the community, principal investigators, research staff, employees, or IRB members) may report complaints, potential noncompliance, or concerns related to a research project by contacting RI or a specific RI staff member either by phone or email; or electronically, by using the Contact Research Integrity form available from the Contact Us page of the RI website. Callers may remain anonymous and the form may be submitted anonymously (e.g., by sending a printed paper copy of the completed form to the RI) or by omitting contact information from the online reporting form.

For non-exempt* research, principal investigators, research or RI staff, IRB members, or other employees must notify the IRB within five business days of learning of a complaint, deviation, potential noncompliance, or problem; or within 48 hours if the problem may be life-threatening or fatal. NOTE: Reporting requirements apply to individuals who receive external reports or notifications. Researchers are advised to use the problem reporting form (available in the IRBNet Researcher Library or from the Forms page of the RIO website). Others may contact the RIO or complete the Contact the Research Integrity Office form available from the Contact Us page of the RIO website.

For exempt research, researchers or others who know of a complaint or problem are advised to contact the RI to discuss problems that may have occurred.

Reporting requirements extend to new information that becomes known about studies that are closed, expired or terminated when that information involves new risks to former participants. The IRB will determine if participants must be informed of the findings and may decide that other steps are warranted to protect participants or others.

Regardless of source (see below) all complaints, potential noncompliance, and problems are assessed by the University's Research Integrity Office (RI) Quality Improvement Officer (QI Officer), RI Director, or IRB Chair or designee in a consistent, prompt, and professional manner as described in IRB policy for assessment of complaints and problems.

Sources of Complaints, Potential Noncompliance, or Problems

Complaints/problems may come to the attention of the RI or the IRB from a variety of sources, including but not limited to:

  • Members of the research team
  • Participants or their family members
  • Members of the community
  • Continuing reviews, research summaries, or progress reports from investigators
  • Internal audits or reviews
  • External or agency audits (e.g., FDA, VA)
  • Monitoring activities by PIs or sponsors
  • Adverse event, problem, or safety reports

Overview of Problem Reporting Form

Protocol change encompasses accidental or unintentional changes to the IRB-approved plan for non-exempt research.

Protocol deviation or violation is any unplanned departure from study procedures or treatment plans as specified in the IRB-approved protocol; generally involves a single participant.

Examples of Deviations/Violations

The following list is provided for illustration only and is not meant to be exhaustive:

  • enrolling a participant who did not meet the all inclusion/exclusion criteria;
  • failing to obtain or document informed consent as approved by the IRB prior to initiation of study procedures;
  • performing a study procedure not approved by the IRB;
  • failing to perform a required lab test;
  • dispensing or dosing error for study medication/drug;
  • conducting a study visit outside of the required timeframe when doing so may affect participant safety;
  • failing to report unanticipated problems/adverse events involving risk to participants to the IRB and sponsor (if applicable);
  • failing to follow safety monitoring plan;
  • implementing unapproved recruitment procedures
  • allowing an unauthorized person to obtain informed consent;
  • failing to provide participant with a copy of the consent form; and
  • exceeding approved enrollment numbers.

Local death includes any death that occurred at the local site that was both unanticipated and related to the research

Local adverse event or problem includes any untoward medical event or problem that occurred at the local site and was both unanticipated and related to the research. NOTE: Requirements for reporting SAEs to the sponsor may differ.

Local adverse device effect includes any unanticipated serious adverse effect on health or safety, life-threatening problem or death, or other serious problem that relates to the rights, safety, or welfare of research participants that is caused by or associated with the investigational device and that occurred at the local site

Immediate harm applies when researchers must change the protocol to eliminate an apparent immediate hazard to a research participant and insufficient time exists to obtain prior IRB approval for the change.

New or additional risks include findings that suggest participants may be at risk in ways not previously identified. For example, the research resulted in undesirable outcomes or harms that were not anticipated earlier, but that appear to be related to participation in the research. For multi-center trials, such risks may be prompted by a sponsor report.

Changes to expected harms (or risks) include findings that indicate that harms may be occurring more often (i.e., with greater frequency) or with more severity (i.e., increased magnitude) than was initially presented to the IRB. For multi-center trials, these may be reported by the sponsor or data safety monitoring board or committee.

Changes to expected benefits include findings that indicate research benefits may be accruing with less frequency or with less affect than was initially presented to the IRB. (Decreases in the expected rates or strength of research benefits warrant reporting because IRB approval was based on a projected relationship of risks and benefits.)

Sponsor includes any sponsor notification of suspension or termination of a research activity or project. Upon receipt of such notification, researchers must immediately suspend or terminate the research as requested by the sponsor, and promptly notify the IRB of the suspension/termination and grounds for same.

FDA changes applies to any change in FDA labeling or withdrawal from marketing of a drug, device, or biologic used in the research.

Federal agency includes any report from or investigation by a federal agency when the report/investigation is related to the research.

Department of Health applies to any non-compliance identified by an audit or monitoring completed by a local or state health department.     

Licensing, certification, or practice changes applies to any loss of license or certification, or hospital or practice privileges by any researcher on the study.

Privacy includes any possible or actual unauthorized disclosure of a participant's involvement in a research project or of her/his personal information.

Confidentiality includes any possible or actual unauthorized disclosure of research data, including lost or stolen research records.

Serious Research Information Security Problem includes a problem in human research or research information security that may present genuine risk of substantive harm or compromise a facilities HRPP or information security program. For investigators conducting VA research.

Complaints includes any complaints or concerns about a research study whether from participants, members of the research team, or others.

Prisoner applies to the incarceration of a participant in a research project that is not approved to enroll prisoners.

Other problems applies to situations or outcomes that may affect research participants or others, or the conduct of the research that do not align with one of the available categories (e.g., safety related suspension or termination of the research by the PI, sponsor, or other authority).

Suggested Content for Reporting Problems to the IRB

Individuals reporting problems to the IRB must provide sufficient information for the RI to evaluate the effects of the problem, situation, unapproved changes, or external reports and to determine the appropriate review path (e.g., assessment for noncompliance or Unanticipated Problem).

Ideally, the information in the report would allow the IRB to evaluate each problem or situation. For example:

  • Does the situation involve unapproved changes to or divergence from an approved research plan?
  • Was the incident expected (i.e., identified in the application and consent form) or unexpected?
  • Is the problem or situation related or possibly related to participation in the research?
  • Does the problem or event suggest participants or others may be at greater risk of harm than was previously known or recognized?

At a minimum the report should include the following:

  • study title and project number;
  • name of the principal investigator;
  • description of the problem, situation, or incident, including specific changes to procedures in the approved research plan if applicable;
  • assessment of why the event occurred;
  • evaluation of potential effects (e.g., increased participant risk, reduced research benefits, or compromised research integrity);
  • description of immediate changes to the protocol that were made in response to the situation;
  • description of corrective actions that were implemented or that are proposed to ensure that similar events do not occur in the future;
  • relevant materials or documents including sponsor assessments or reports; and
  • the name of the individual reporting the event (unless the person reporting the problem prefers to remain anonymous).

Reporting Requirements for Multi-Site Research

When a University or Affiliate investigator is involved in the conduct of a multi-center study, reporting requirements vary as follows:

  • For problems that occur locally (i.e., at the investigator's institution), the PI must inform the University IRB of complaints from participants or others, local situations or events that involve possible noncompliance, and unexpected and related or possibly related serious adverse events or problems. PIs must inform the sponsor of complaints and local problems and adverse events as described in the clinical protocol or contract.
  • The investigator must inform the University IRB and sponsor of her/his decision to suspend or terminate a research project at the local site.
  • If a University or affiliate investigator is the lead PI or managing investigator for a multi-center study, she/he must inform the University IRB of external (i.e., occurring at other sites) complaints from participants or others, possible noncompliance, and unexpected and related or possibly related serious adverse events.
  • If the University or affiliate investigator is not the lead PI or managing investigator, she/he is not required to inform the University IRB of noncompliance or events that occurred at external sites unless these may constitute Unanticipated Problems.

NOTE: PIs are required to report sponsor assessments or notifications, or safety reports involving external serious adverse events that may be Unanticipated Problems; and all notifications of suspension or termination of a research project.

Reporting Requirements for Research Reviewed by an External IRB

For research in which the University accepts an external IRB as the IRB of Record (AKA: Reviewing IRB), University and affiliate PIs must report complaints, potential noncompliance, Unanticipated Problems, and suspension or termination of a research project to the Reviewing IRB as required by the external institution, and according to applicable regulations and laws.

If the IRB of Record determines an event, situation or problem constitutes serious or continuing noncompliance, or an Unanticipated Problem, within five business days of being notified of the Reviewing IRB's decision, the PI must submit a copy of the determination notification to the University IRB.

The PI must notify the University IRB within five business days of the Reviewing IRB's determination to suspend or terminate a research project.