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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Regulatory Information

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Screening Tests Prior to Study Enrollment - Information Sheet

Guidance for Institutional Review Boards and Clinical Investigators

For some studies, the use of screening tests to assess whether prospective subjects are appropriate candidates for inclusion in studies is an appropriate pre-entry activity. While an investigator may discuss availability of studies and the possibility of entry into a study with a prospective subject without first obtaining consent, informed consent must be obtained prior to initiation of any clinical procedures that are performed solely for the purpose of determining eligibility for research, including withdrawal from medication (wash-out). When wash-out is done in anticipation of or in preparation for the research, it is part of the research.

Procedures that are to be performed as part of the practice of medicine and which would be done whether or not study entry was contemplated, such as for diagnosis or treatment of a disease or medical condition, may be performed and the results subsequently used for determining study eligibility without first obtaining consent. On the other hand, informed consent must be obtained prior to initiation of any clinical screening procedures that is performed solely for the purpose of determining eligibility for research. When a doctor-patient relationship exists, prospective subjects may not realize that clinical tests performed solely for determining eligibility for research enrollment are not required for their medical care. Physician-investigators should take extra care to clarify with their patient-subjects why certain tests are being conducted.

Clinical screening procedures for research eligibility are considered part of the subject selection and recruitment process and, therefore, require IRB oversight. If the screening qualifies as a minimal risk procedure [21 CFR 56.102(i)], the IRB may choose to use expedited review procedures [21 CFR 56.110]. The IRB should receive a written outline of the screening procedure to be followed and how consent for screening will be obtained. The IRB may find it appropriate to limit the scope of the screening consent to a description of the screening tests and to the reasons for performing the tests including a brief summary description of the study in which they may be asked to participate. Unless the screening tests involve more than minimal risk or involve a procedure for which written consent is normally required outside the research context, the IRB may decide that prospective study subjects need not sign a consent document [21 CFR 56.109(c)]. If the screening indicates that the prospective subject is eligible, the informed consent procedures for the study, as approved by the IRB, would then be followed.

Certain clinical tests, such as for HIV infection, may have State requirements regarding (1) the information that must be provided to the participant, (2) which organizations have access to the test results and (3) whether a positive result has to be reported to the health department. Prospective subjects should be informed of any such requirements and how an unfavorable test result could affect employment or insurance before the test is conducted. The IRB may wish to confirm that such tests are required by the protocol of the study.


Also see this FDA Information Sheet: 
"Recruiting Study Subjects"