The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic caused serious setbacks for clinical research and publishing, some of which persist two years later, according to Thomas Read, MD, FACS, FASCRS, professor and chief of the division of gastrointestinal surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, who spoke about the topic at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) 2022.
COVID-19 caused a slowdown in clinical research as trials closed down and staffing shortages emerged.
As hospitals filled up with COVID-19 patients in the spring of 2020, researchers were forced to put their trials on hold to avoid exposure for patients and staff. At the same time, the shifting need for medical personnel in locations experiencing COVID-19 surges caused many research staff to leave their positions for more lucrative, temporary roles.
“The pandemic has resulted in the great resignation throughout many industries,” said Dr. Read. “In health care, a lot of our research nurses left for traveling agencies. These jobs pay a lot of money, but when a shift like this happens at such a large scale, it’s unsustainable for hospitals.”
Two years into the pandemic, Dr. Read noted that many aspects of the clinical trial process are returning to normal. However, patient enrollment is still difficult.
“Investigators are committed to conducting high-quality research, but it’s difficult,” he said, “We’re still dealing with the pandemic in many ways. The Omicron wave just recently subsided, and many areas are experiencing another resurgence. Recommendations and guidelines in health care are continually changing, and a lot of patients feel that their lives are out of control medically. Many are hesitant to add to that uncertainty by participating in a clinical trial.”
“We’ll get back to normal eventually,” he continued, “but the pandemic taught us a lot about how fragile the clinical trial system is.”
COVID-19 caused a surge in scientific manuscript submissions, straining the capacity of journals to properly vet research findings.
“In spring 2020, there was a rush to publish. People were desperate for any news about this new virus. Since physicians were no longer doing a lot of clinical work, they started writing,” said Dr. Read. “The number of manuscripts submitted to journals exploded, putting an incredible strain on the editorial and publishing system. And not all manuscripts were of high quality, especially those about COVID.”
Dr. Read, who serves as colorectal associate editor for the Annals of Surgery, described how editors were forced to make strategic decisions about whether to publish COVID-19-related articles simply because there was a demand for information. He argued that this led to some exaggerated claims not based on data or evidence.
“We should resist the urge to put information out there just because people want ‘news,’ if it’s not ultimately going to help,” he said. “We live in a society where social media rules. People are focused on sound bites and headlines. But as clinicians and researchers, we have a responsibility to stick to the principles of critical thinking and proper vetting of data.”
Dr. Read will give the oral presentation, “Has COVID changed the way we advance clinical research and share scientific findings?” on Tuesday, May 24, at 7:45 a.m. PDT as part of the SSAT and ISDS Symposium, “Elective GI Surgery in the COVID-19 Era.”