The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Institutional Review Board, known simply by its initials as “the IRB,” comprises an independent body of health professionals and community representatives and a small, professionally staffed office located within the DPH Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology. The IRB committee and the IRB office are together responsible for assuring that all research and other systematic data collection involving DPH staff, facilities or clients/patients is conducted in accordance with the highest scientific and ethical standards and applicable federal and state regulations. The IRB ensures that all public health research in Los Angeles County respects the right of research subjects or participants to freely decide on the basis of complete and accurate information whether or not to participate, to have their information kept private and confidential, to participate only in research devoted to answering significant questions with sound scientific methods and to have any risks of research kept to a minimum and balanced or outweighed by potential benefits to the participants and/or society.
The Public Health IRB is in turn part of a national system of IRBs (sometimes called “research ethics committees” or “human subjects protection programs”) required by the federal government for any institution or agency that receives federal funds for biomedical, public health or social scientific research. The basic requirements and standards for IRBs are established in the Code of Federal Regulations and are overseen and sometimes audited by three federal offices, but each local IRB functions independently to apply the federal minimum standards to its particular local context, often with additional state or county requirements. The Public Health IRB was established by action of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 1999. We currently oversee not only all research related in any way to the Department of Public Health but also research conducted by Department of Health Services headquarters staff, certain other County departments and, by specific agreements, some private non-profit community-based agencies.
Functions. The core IRB function is requiring and then approving applications from researchers, research teams and/or the responsible DPH staff liaison (for outside and multi-agency collaborations) for any data collection activity. The forms, instructions, links and other information presented on this website lay out the components and process of submitting an application.
Not surprisingly, many applications are not approved unconditionally on their first try. They may be approved with stipulations that certain aspects of the project must be changed or clarified, or the application may be sent back for substantial rethinking and revision. This should not be considered a disaster, however, as nearly every application is eventually approved!
Still, the IRB hopes to gradually improve not only the quality of individual applications but also the overall awareness and richness of ethical and related community involvement standards in public health research as well as a continually rising level of knowledge among DPH staff of research design, methods and best practices. Therefore, the IRB supports its core function through an active outreach, education, consultation and training program. We periodically offer open workshops as well as specialized training programs for individual departments or programs.