Any time you are doing research on human subjects, you need to get approval from an ethics or institutional review board (IRB).
Why do you need to do it? In order to protect human subjects who agree to be in a research study, an outside, neutral party must review the research and decide if the research procedures (from recruitment to dissemination of results) are being done thoughtfully and carefully to safeguard the rights of the research participants. Research participants have the right to refusal, privacy, and confidentiality. They also have the right to understand the purpose of the research and any risks or benefits associated with their participation in the research.
Where do you get approval? If you work in a large hospital system, the hospital should have their own IRB. Smaller institutions might not have ethics boards but they might collaborate with a larger community or organization that does. Alternately, you might need to get an independent ethics board to approve your study (not ideal, but they are out there).
What do you need to do to get approval? Each IRB will have its own procedure but the basic information an IRB will ask is usually the same. They will want to know what the purpose of your research is, the procedures – who will be recruited, how, and what kind of data will be collected, and how you will assure that the participants understand their rights as research participants (this is the informed consent document). You will need to provide recruitment details, information about incentives (if there are any), and any flyers and handouts that you will use.
If you have gotten this far and need some help, feel free to contact me – I would be happy to help you out (I have done my fair share of IRB approvals!)!
You cannot conduct your research until the ethics board approval is secured. Once the ethics board give you the “OK” – you can proceed to the next step – data collection!