An e-consent framework for tiered informed consent for human genomic research in the global south, implemented as a REDCap template
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Research involving human participants requires their consent, and it is common practice to capture consent information on paper and store those hard copies, presenting issues such as long-term storage requirements, inefficient retrieval of consent forms for reference or future use, and the potential for transcription errors when transcribing captured informed consent. There have been calls to move to electronic capture of the consent provided by research participants (e-consent) as a way of addressing these issues. A tiered framework for e-consent was designed using the freely available features in the inbuilt REDCap e-consent module. We implemented ‘branching logic’, ‘wet signature’ and ‘auto-archiver’ features to the main informed consent and withdrawal of consent documents. The branching logic feature streamlines the consent process by making follow-up information available depending on participant response, the ‘wet signature’ feature enables a timestamped electronic signature to be appended to the e-consent documents and the ‘auto-archiver’ allows for PDF copies of the e-consent documents to be stored in the database. When designing the content layout, we provided example participant information text which can be modified as required. Emphasis was placed on the flow of information to optimise participant understanding and this was achieved by merging the consent and participant information into one document where the consent questions were asked immediately after the corresponding participant information. In addition, we have provided example text for a generic human genomic research study, which can be easily edited and modified according to specific requirements. Building informed consent protocols and forms without prior experience can be daunting, so we have provided researchers with a REDCap template that can be directly incorporated into REDCap databases. It prompts researchers about the types of consent they can request for genomics studies and assists them with suggestions for the language they might use for participant information and consent questions. The use of this tiered e-consent module can ensure the accurate and efficient electronic capture and storage of the consents given by participants in a format that can be easily queried and can thus facilitate ethical and effective onward sharing of data and samples whilst upholding individual participant preferences.