Adapting during pandemic times

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 changed the world. A year into the pandemic, OSSU asked its research centres to comment on the shifts they have made to adapt to the challenges.

We asked, how has the pandemic altered the focus of research? How have your operations changed in response to the pandemic challenges? What are some successes? How have you been able to maintain your commitment to patient partnership and engagement?

Change is constant

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of work, engagement, and research. Across all centres, research has shifted to focusing on understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on physical, mental, and emotional health. Research stemming from OSSU centres covers the breadth and depth of demographic groups, from children to seniors, and across socioeconomic and racial groups.

Evidence-informed outputs and research at the Centres has influenced and impacted policy decisions and public understanding of the virus and vaccines such as:

  • Clinical Trials Ontario is helping move more than 95 trials forward quickly and sharing best practices developed with a community working group
  • Women’s College’s involvement in the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table
  • ICES’s reporting to the provincial emergency Command Table
  • The Ontario Brain Institute’s involvement in the development of the Ministry of Health’s Ontario Health Data Platform.

The nature of work

How researchers and their teams conduct research has changed. When the pandemic was declared, everyone who was not a frontline or essential worker moved to a remote work model. Centres have provided staff with the technology they need to engage in work from home. Across the Centres, there is the sentiment that remote work is more successful than initially conceived.

Pivoting to working from home has demonstrated that long-term remote work is feasible, productive, and still allows for collaboration and integration, even if that looks different than originally planned. Hosting online events has reduced barriers to access and enabled greater reach to patient and community partners. The move to working from home has highlighted the need for cybersecurity policies and protocols. To this end, ICES, for example, moved quickly to establish protocols to ensure secure access to data for employees.

Heavy reliance on virtual networking and communication tools with partners and collaborators have helped to maintain project timelines and milestones, with considerable success in international and inter-jurisdictional collaborations.

At the same time, researchers have acknowledged how fortunate they are to be able to work safely and are committed to helping address gaps and inequities for many people hard-hit by the pandemic. ICES, for example, is shifting its research to include in-depth data on socioeconomic deprivation and virtual care access.

Research Centres have created new initiatives aimed specifically at COVID-19, including:

  • COVID-END Global evidence networks (57+ of the world’s leading evidence synthesis groups) and COVID-END in Canada (with 40+ of Canada’s leading evidence synthesis groups) out of the McMaster Health Forum at McMaster University
  • CHEO Research Institute’s Patient Engagement in Research Team completed 28 COVID-19 projects including mental health supports for parents during the pandemic, evolution of antibodies in children and adults with SARS-C0V-2, and more
  • Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) focused on evaluating opioid use during COVID-19 and the release of the Ontario Prescription Drug Utilization Tool to create awareness of drug shortages due to the pandemic
  • CRaNHR has provided support for COVID-19 reporting and planning for northern/rural regions as well as for the vaccine rollout by creating a local data-management infrastructure
  • Women’s College Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital, and McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) have focused on long-term care homes and health workers, the impacts of COVID-19 on family caregivers, research on maintaining social connections while distant, COVID-19 impacts on brain health and other effects of the pandemic on older adults
  • ICES provides daily reports on data trends on COVID-19 rates and COVaxON, Ontario’s vaccination booking system
  • Clinical Trials Ontario has focused resources on pandemic management and public listings of all open COVID-19 studies.

Patient Engagement

  • The commitment to patient engagement and partnership has not wavered. If anything, this commitment has been strengthened using alternative methods of connection via virtual platforms to recruit, onboard, and engage with more patient partners and community stakeholders by eliminating geographic barriers to participation. For example, with more people accessing health records to get COVID-19 test results, the Ottawa Methods Centre created a pop-up attached to the MyChart app to poll people about their wants, needs, and ability to participate in research.  

OSSU research centres continue to support research and clinical practice in Ontario and beyond with people, expertise and collaboration. To learn more and find specific examples, visit our COVID-19 response page.