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Paying research participants: a study of current practices in Australia
  1. C L Fry1,
  2. A Ritter2,
  3. S Baldwin3,
  4. K J Bowen2,
  5. P Gardiner2,
  6. T Holt2,
  7. R Jenkinson2,
  8. J Johnston2
  1. 1Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre and Department of Public Health, University of Melbourne, Australia
  2. 2Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Australia
  3. 3Centre for Harm Reduction, Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 C Fry
 Senior Research Fellow, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre Inc., 54–62 Gertrude St, Melbourne VIC 3065, Australia;


Objective: To examine current research payment practices and to inform development of clearer guidelines for researchers and ethics committees.

Design: Exploratory email based questionnaire study of current research participant reimbursement practices. A diverse sample of organisations and individuals were targeted.

Setting: Australia.

Participants: Contacts in 84 key research organisations and select electronic listservers across Australia. A total of 100 completed questionnaires were received with representations from a variety of research areas (for example, market, alcohol and drug, medical, pharmaceutical and social research).

Main measurements: Open-ended and fixed alternative questions about type of research agency; type of research; type of population under study; whether payment is standard; amounts and mechanisms of payment; factors taken into account when deciding on payment practices; and whether payment policies exist.

Results: Reimbursement practice is highly variable. Where it occurs (most commonly for drug dependent rather than health professional or general population samples) it is largely monetary and is for time and out-of-pocket expenses. Ethics committees were reported to be often involved in decision making around reimbursement.

Conclusions: Research subject payment practices vary in Australia. Researchers who do provide payments to research participants generally do so without written policy and procedures. Ethics committees have an important role in developing guidelines in this area. Specific guidelines are needed considering existing local policies and procedures; payment models and their application in diverse settings; case study examples of types and levels of reimbursement; applied definitions of incentive and inducement; and the rationale for diverse payment practices in different settings.

  • ethics
  • payment practices
  • reimbursement
  • research subject payment

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  • Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre funded the conduct of this research. C Fry is supported by the 2003 Australian Museum and Australian Catholic University Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics.

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