The landscape of medical and clinical research during the Covid-19 pandemic
The research sector has been presented with a multitude of challenges with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation of medical conferences, suspension of “non-essential” international and national travel, as well as increasing social restrictions has meant that research activities have been significantly affected.
The CRE in Newborn Medicine research team share global concerns about COVID-19 and how it will impact on all aspects of our community and our work. In line with government regulations, we have dedicated efforts to adapt our processes to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The health, safety and well-being of patients, research participants and their families, as well as health care professionals, researchers and other staff involved in patient care and research has been at the forefront of our minds in the changes we have been implementing.
Our teams responded initially to modify procedures in compliance with social distancing. To avoid undue drain on resources by having research participants and staff using hospital facilities, in some cases, we temporarily suspended participant recruitment. In other areas, we have moved to prioritise research activities that do not require face-to-face interactions. And we are now working to continue some of our research studies in the context of the COVID-19 crisis by moving to innovative methods of assessment using telehealth and web-based applications.
CRE Chief Investigator Associate Professor Brett Manley conducts clinical trials in the neonatal intensive care unit and has noted the changes he has witnessed: “In some cases, institutions or hospitals have directed their research teams to suspend clinical research. Others have elected to continue recruitment with additional precautions to keep staff and patients safe, but this is an ever-changing environment and constantly under review. Long-term follow-up of preterm babies in our trials is on hold. Certainly, neonatal clinical trials will now take longer than planned to be completed, and this means important knowledge from trials will be delayed.”
From an operations point of view, things are continuing uninterrupted. We are utilising virtual platforms for our meetings to design, monitor and review our research. The training of our students and ECRs will proceed online, employing new platforms for the dissemination of our teaching and engagement between our team, and our Consumer Advisory Group has also moved to video conferencing to continue their input into our activities. In this case, we have found this meeting format is seemingly more beneficial to some members; an insight we may not have otherwise realised.
Like everyone in the research community, we are planning for the contingencies required to address the potential impact of COVID-19, and the associated responses to the crisis, on our own ongoing research and practices. Chief Investigator Alicia Spittle, Knowledge Translation Fellow, Dr Abbey Eeles and their team have produced a downloadable handout to support families with Telehealth amidst the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic may influence the way things are done into the future, this document may be beneficial for longer and to a wider audience than expected when developed.
By way of support for the newborn research field, the CRE invites your views and insights into how your team is modifying their activities and shaping future practices during this difficult period of ongoing restrictions. Our hope is that we can start a discussion of shared ideas that will lead to everyone being able to navigate this difficult time together: demonstrating consultation, adaptation and innovation and achieving the continued research excellence we all strive for.