Ethics of health research in communities: Perspectives from the Southwestern United States

Robert L. Williams, Cathleen E. Willging, Gilbert Quintero, Summers Kalishman, Andrew L. Sussman, William L. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


PURPOSE The increasing attention paid to community-based research highlights the question of whether human research protections focused on the individual are adequate to safeguard communities. We conducted a study to explore how community members perceive low-risk health research, the adequacy of human research protection processes, and the ethical conduct of community-based research. METHODS Eighteen focus groups were conducted among rural and urban Hispanic and Native American communities in New Mexico using a semistructured guide. Group transcriptions were analyzed using iterative readings and coding, with review of the analytic summary by group members. RESULTS Although participants recognized the value of health research, many also identified several adverse effects of research in their communities, including social (community and individual labeling, stigmatization, and discrimination) and economic (community job losses, increased insurance rates, and loss of community income). A lack of community beneficence was emphasized by participants who spoke of researchers who fail to communicate results adequately or assist with follow-through. Many group members did not believe current human research and data privacy processes were adequate to protect or assist communities. CONCLUSIONS Ethical review of community-based health research should apply the Belmont principles to communities. Researchers should adopt additional approaches to community-based research by engaging communities as active partners throughout the research process, focusing on community priorities, and taking extra precautions to assure individual and community privacy. Plans for meaningful dissemination of results to communities should be part of the research design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-439
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Family Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010


Funding support: This project was supported by grant No. 1 R03 HS013208 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality .

FundersFunder number
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality


    • Community-based participatory research
    • Confidentiality
    • Principle-based ethics
    • Privacy
    • Third-party consent


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