IRB Problems and Solutions in Health Communication Research

Carie S.Tucker King, Kristin Marie Bivens, Erin Pumroy, Susan Rauch, Amy Koerber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In this article, we contribute to the current literature on the difficulties that social scientists encounter with IRBs, but with a focus on the distinct challenges that health communication scholars face in dealing with IRBs at their own institutions and elsewhere. Although health communication researchers, like other communication researchers, can expect to face many of the same challenges that their social science colleagues face during the IRB process, the researcher narratives we present in this article suggest that health communication research presents some distinct challenges because the communication interactions that we investigate occur in highly protected, private spaces, including the medical exam room, online patient forums, and electronic health records. To that end, we present a series of examples in which health communication researchers were able to find solutions or workarounds to the challenges they faced in gaining IRB approval for their research. In every case that we present, the researcher had to revise her initial study design to get around the constraints imposed by IRB requirements, and in every case, the researcher reports having experienced points of incommensurability similar to those reported by many other social scientists. In some situations, investigators even express frustration that the IRB’s needs and demands superseded those of healthcare professionals and the patients whom they serve. Additionally, in some situations, investigators’ understandings of human subjects’ protection actually go further to protect patients’ privacy and confidentiality than the IRB required. But, in all four cases that we present, the health communication research was ultimately successful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-916
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 3 2018


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