Monday, March 5, 2012

Compensation of IRB Chairs, Vice Chairs, and Members

Serving on an IRB can involve a heavy workload. Among other duties, IRB members review protocols prior to meetings, conduct reviews using the expedited procedure, interact with researchers and IRB staff, and attend meetings. IRB chairs, in addition to their duties as IRB members, lead meetings, deal with problems such as non-compliance, approve and sign outgoing letters, and perform other leadership and administrative functions. In fact, serving on an IRB can be more time-consuming than serving on most other committees in an organization.

Dr. John Falletta, a pediatric oncologist and longtime IRB chair at Duke Medicine, comments that “it is extremely difficult for a practicing physician to serve as an IRB chair in the current medical practice climate and juggle medical responsibilities and IRB duties.” The dilemma is that experienced clinical researchers are precisely suited to serving on an IRB that reviews biomedical research, particularly clinical trials. For non-physician researchers, similar conflicting demands include their own research and teaching responsibilities.

The issue of compensating IRB members and chairs is a matter of frequent discussion for the members themselves and the administrators or department chairs who deal with the financial ramifications of the compensation. AAHRPP’s data analysis for 2011 showed that among all accredited organizations 81 percent compensate their IRB chairs—an increase from 65 percent in 2009 and 67 percent in 2010. Each type of organization compensates in a different way. Universities, hospitals, and medical centers have consistently paid IRB chairs over the three years for which information was collected (80 percent, 79 percent, and 83 percent, respectively), and 100 percent of independent IRBs pay IRB chairs, vice chairs, and members. Among government organizations, the share of paid chairs has increased from 31 percent in 2009 to 42 percent in 2010 and 60 percent in 2011. Compensation of IRB chairs was most often financial, including a percentage of salary, a fixed yearly stipend, or a fixed reimbursement per meeting. In many cases the funds went to the chair’s department, and sometimes chairs received the money directly. The amounts vary based on the size of the human research program, the workload, and the responsibilities and time commitment of chairs. Much rarer was non-financial compensation such as release time from teaching or other duties.

Fifty-three percent of IRB vice chairs in all accredited organizations were compensated in 2011, compared with 42 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2009. Breakdown by type of organization revealed similar trends as chairs: Among universities, hospitals, and medical centers, the rates of payments for the three years were 51 percent, 53 percent, and 55 percent, respectively. Government organizations compensated 11 percent, 10 percent, and 23 percent of their vice chairs. The type of compensation for vice chairs was similar to that of chairs.

Compensation usually differs between affiliated and non-affiliated IRB members. In 2011, 31 percent of all accredited organizations compensated affiliated IRB members, while 65 percent compensated unaffiliated members. The AAHRPP data did not differentiate between affiliated and non-affiliated members until 2011. Compensation of IRB members was always financial and could take the form of a percentage of salary, a fixed yearly stipend, or a fixed reimbursement per meeting. Release time was not reported for IRB member compensation.

The compensation of IRB chairs and vice chairs is related to the size of the human research program: The larger the number of protocols, the more likely it is that the chair and vice chair are compensated. There was no relationship between the compensation of affiliated or unaffiliated members and the number of protocols.

Consistent with the varying numbers, there are conflicting views about compensating people for service on the IRB. Sujatha Sridhar, Executive Director of Research Compliance at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said her organization espouses the viewpoint that “we do not pay our IRB chairs, vice chairs, or members because we look at it like service as with any other university committee, which is part of their responsibilities as a faculty member.” Conversely, Dr. Allison Lakin, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Regulatory Compliance at the University of Colorado Denver, authorizes compensation to the departments of the chairs and vice chairs for their time commitment to the IRB. Dr. Lakin believes that “service as a chair or vice chair of an IRB requires a high level of time and training and that the university needs to respect their time and ability by compensating accordingly.” Dr. Lakin continues: “Regulatory committees are different from the general committees at the university in that they require members to be trained and represent the university to external regulatory bodies.”

Organizations will continue to struggle with the issue of compensating IRB members, chairs, and vice chairs, especially in austere economic times. No single solution applies to all organizations because not only do organizations have different research portfolios but they also have different philosophies about service on the IRB and responsibilities of IRB chairs, vice chairs, and members. Different approaches work for different organizations. In the end, each organization must decide what model works best to maintain a well-functioning, high-quality IRB.

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