Use of Email for Research Purposes Guidance

Version Date: April 24, 2017

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance for study teams that will use email to communicate with human subjects during research studies. The University of Wisconsin Health Sciences IRBs recognize email to be an effective means to communicate with research subjects, as long as specific guidelines are adhered to in order to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of subjects.

General Requirements for Email Use

Email may be used in a variety of ways during a study, including for recruitment, scheduling study visits, or as part of general study participation. The following guidelines apply to all uses of email for research purposes. Additional information on situation specific use of emails is provided below.

Email Accounts

Health Information within Emails

The following disclosure language should also be included at the end of all email communications with subjects (the language in brackets should be revised to be study-specific).

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Use of Email for Initial Subject Recruitment

Email can be used both directly and indirectly as a recruitment tool. Direct email recruitment includes obtaining potential subjects’ email addresses and sending IRB approved recruitment material to the subject by email. Indirect email recruitment includes listing a study-related email address in recruitment flyers, brochures, or study information sheets for subjects to use to contact the study team.

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Use of Email to Schedule Initial Study Visits

Study teams may want to use email to schedule or confirm initial study visits. The HS IRBs office realizes that this is an easy and effective way to coordinate with subjects, but it also presents issues with privacy and confidentiality. If email will be used to schedule initial study visits the following guidelines should be followed:

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Collecting and Using Email as Part of Study Participation

Study teams may want to communicate with subjects by email during the course of a study for purposes such as scheduling additional study visits, sending study reminders, and providing links to complete online surveys. Study teams are allowed to use email to communicate with subjects during the course of the study in accordance with the following guidelines:

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Template Language for Consent Forms

Please see Informed Consent: Additional Model Language - Emailing to Communicate with Subjects for template language.

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Sample Recruitment Email

Subject Line: Participants being sought for a [general area of research] research study

[Insert name of researcher or research group] is looking for participants for a research study. You are receiving this email because you are a [insert description of targeted population, e.g. student, employee, faculty] at UW-Madison. Your email address was obtained from [insert source of email addresses; e.g., the UW-Madison Division of Information Technology (DoIT)]. This study is about [insert description of study]. If you take part in this study, you would [provide brief description of what subjects are required to do, how long they would be in the study, and, if they would receive drugs]. To be able to take part in this study, individuals must be/have [briefly describe primary eligibility criteria]. If you are interested in participating or have any questions about the study, please email [insert name and email address of contact] or call [insert name and telephone number of contact].

Email is generally not a secure way to communicate sensitive or health related information as there are many ways for unauthorized users to access email. You should avoid sending sensitive, detailed personal information by email. Email should also not be used to convey information of an urgent nature. If you need to talk to someone immediately or would prefer not to receive study communication by email, please contact [Name, Title, Phone Number].

If DoIT list was used, add the following in smaller font at the end of the message. Only the sections (Registrar's Office or OHR) that apply should be included, depending on the data requested.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison allows researchers to use email to send its faculty, staff, and student information about research opportunities as part of its research mission. Use of these email addresses has been approved by the campus data custodian [Registrar's Office for students and Office of Human Resources for faculty/staff]. The content of this email message has been approved by a University of Wisconsin-Madison Institutional Review Board (IRB). IRBs are charged with protecting the rights and welfare of people who take part in research studies.

Additional Resources

University of Wisconsin-Madison Policy and Procedures: E-Mail Communications Involving Protected Health Information

HIPAA FAQs on use of email for research