Certificates of Confidentiality (CoC) are issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect identifiable research information from forced disclosure. They allow the investigator and others who have access to research records to refuse to disclose identifying information on research participants in any civil, criminal, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding, whether at the federal, state, or local level. CoC may be granted for studies collecting information that if disclosed could have adverse consequences for subjects or damage their financial standing, employability, insurability, or reputation. By protecting researchers and institutions from being compelled to disclose information that would identify research subjects, CoC help achieve the research objectives and promote participation in studies by assuring confidentiality and privacy to participants.
CHOP-Approved Certificate of Confidentiality Language
The NIH's CoC language is written at Grade 20+ and will therefore, not be understandable to all but a few individuals. The CHOP IRB has revised the CoC language so that it is more approachable (Grade 8.4 - 10.4 depending on the reading assessment tool). The CHOP IRB encourages investigators to use its version of the CoC in consent forms. An MS Word version of the CoC can be downloaded from the Informed Consent page or by using the following link: CHOP CoC Text.
CHOP Certificate of Confidentiality Language
A Certificate of Confidentiality (CoC) issued by the NIH covers this research. A CoC helps protect your identifiable information and biological samples.
A CoC protects your private information from all legal proceedings. Unless you consent, information from this research study that identifies you will not be shared outside this research.
- No one can be forced to share your identifiable information or biological samples for a lawsuit.
- Your information can't be used as evidence even if there is a court subpoena.
If you consent, your information or biological samples could be shared for: (restate what will be disclosed if there are other purposes listed in the consent form)
- other scientific research;
- (Explain the other purposes) not connected with this research;
- your medical treatment (Since CHOP Policy requires all clinically relevant data to be stored in EPIC, this statement will rarely be applicable).
The CoC does not prevent some disclosures.
- (Only include the next statement if a US federal or state government agency is funding the research) The researchers can't refuse requests for information from those funding this research. The [Funding Agency] may need information to assess this project. (if applicable add) Also, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may need information.
- You can still share information about yourself. You can also freely discuss your involvement in this research.
- The researchers must disclose things required by law. This includes suspected child abuse and neglect, harm to self or others, or communicable diseases.
As of October 1, 2017, all studies funded by the NIH that involve human subjects research will automatically be issued a CoC. The change is the result of the 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016. All investigators who receive funding for human subjects research should familiarize themselves with the new policy and must ensure that all consent forms include a CoC section.
Sources for additional information
- Certificates constitute an important tool to protect the privacy of research study participants. Information can be obtained at the National Institute of Health (Link is external).
- For more information legal issues and challenges related to the validity of CoC see Wolfe et al. Certificates of Confidentiality: Protecting Human Subject Research Data in Law and Practice.
Tools and Information Provided by the NIH
For more information and tools related to Certificates of Confidentiality:
- NIH CoC Kiosk
- NIH Suggested Consent Language Describing the CoC Protections Note: this version is written at a very high grade level and investigators are encouraged to use the CHOP version (above).
NIH is making information widely available to investigators working on sensitive biomedical, behavioral, clinical or other types of research.
Examples of such studies include (but are not limited to) research on HIV, AIDS, and other STDs; studies on the use of alcohol, drugs, or other addictive products; studies that collect information on illegal conduct; research on participants' psychological wellbeing or mental health; and genetic studies, including those that collect and store biological samples for future use.
Procedures for Obtaining a CoC from the NIH for non-NIH funded studies at CHOP
Studies that are NIH-funded automatically receive a CoC. For non-NIH funded studies, follow the procedures outlined below.
Start at the NIH's page, How to Get a Certificate of Confidentiality?
Go to Step 2 and follow the instructions to request a CoC. To request a CoC, you will need to following information:
Project details, including research title, start date, projected end date, and description.
Institution and performance site (if applicable) details, including institution and performance sites(s) names and addresses, and institutional official name, email address, and phone number.
The Institutional Official (IO) at CHOP is CR Matthew Hodgson. The address for the IO must be included with the signature line: Roberts Center for Pediatric Research; 2716 South Street, Room 17121; Philadelphia, PA 19146. Phone 267-426-8723. Email hodgsonm [at] chop.edu (link sends email).
Principal Investigator name, phone number, email address, degree, position.
Key personnel names, degrees, and positions.
If applicable, name(s) of drugs that will be administered, route of administration, and dosage.
If applicable, a copy of the DEA certificate(s)/registration for studies in which a controlled drug will be administered.
After you submit the information above, an email is sent to Matthew Hodgson. The IO will need to review the CoC request information for accuracy, affirm the online Institutional Assurance Statement, and submit the CoC request.
The PI will receive an email notification when the IO submits the Assurance Statement and when the NIH approves the CoC.
An application for a CoC requires an IRB-approved study. Please note that while the IRB will issue approval of a study with a pending certificate of confidentiality application, the IRB will not release the consent including the CoC template language until the certificate has been obtained.
When a researcher obtains a CoC, the research subjects must be told about the protections afforded by the certificate and any exceptions to that protection. That information must be included in the informed consent form. The NIH provides examples of appropriate language. Researchers may adapt the language to the needs of the research participants and to the subject matter of the study. However, the language used must cover the basic concepts of a CoC and be substantially similar to the language provided by the NIH and provided below.
Researchers should also review the language about confidentiality and data security that is routinely included in consent forms to be certain that it is consistent with the protections of the CoC.
Contact Matthew Hodgson at hodgsonm [at] chop.edu (link sends email) with questions about the CoC submission process.
Obtaining a CoC from the FDA
The FDA is authorized to issue a CoC for FDA regulated studies that do not have any other HHS funding.
Review the FDA’s guidance on CoC before submitting a request. After determining a study qualifies for a CoC from the FDA:
- Download the FDA CoC template letter.
- Edit the template letter for the specific research study.
- Sign and email to Matthew Hodgson for review and signature. Matthew will return the letter to the PI.
- Submit the signed letter to the FDA.
After the FDA completes its review, the Center will send an electronic response letter to the requestor indicating whether or not the CoC has been granted. If granted, that electronic response letter will serve as the CoC. It is expected that most CoC requests will be granted provided these are in compliance with the statutory requirements.
Contact Matthew Hodgson at hodgsonm [at] chop.edu(link sends e-mail) with questions about the CoC submission process.