Research information should be presented in a manner that promotes understanding. However, many parents and research subjects have difficulty understanding and making informed decisions.
To examine the effect of different communication strategies on parental understanding of research information.
Observational study from January 2010 to June 2012 using a fractional factorial design.
Large tertiary care children’s hospital.
Six hundred forty parents of children scheduled for elective surgery.
Parents were randomized to receive information about a hypothetical pain trial presented in 1 of 16 consent documents containing different combinations of 5 selected communication strategies (ie, length, readability, processability [formatting], graphical display, and supplemental verbal disclosure).
Main Outcome and Measures
Parents were interviewed to determine their understanding of the study elements (eg, protocol and alternatives) and their gist (main point) and verbatim (actual) understanding of the risks and benefits.
Main effects for understanding were found for processability, readability, message length, use of graphics, and verbal discussion. Consent documents with high processability, eighth-grade reading level, and graphics resulted in significantly greater gist and verbatim understanding compared with forms without these attributes (mean difference, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.26-0.88, number of correct responses of 7 and mean difference, 0.54; 95% CI,0.20-0.88, number of correct responses of 4 for gist and verbatim, respectively).
Conclusions and Relevance
Results identified several communication strategy combinations that improved parents’ understanding of research information. Adoption of these active strategies by investigators, clinicians, institutional review boards, and study sponsors represents a simple, practical, and inexpensive means to optimize the consent message and enhance parental, participant, and patient understanding.