The Necessity For Knowledge
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how physicians practice medicine worldwide and has created a wide information gap as clinicians struggle to integrate the immense volume of new research into their practice. Primary literature of varying quality is being published at an accelerated pace, and the lack of strong evidence for diagnostics, treatments, and interventions only further contributes to this uncertainty.
Dr. Mark Crowther, Chair of the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, identified the need for a resource to fill this knowledge gap for frontline clinicians and researchers. Becky Jones, a medical student at McMaster, connected with Dr. Crowther to spearhead the project and subsequently recruited fellow medical students Meghan Glibbery, Hannah Kearney, and Daniel Levin to aid with project coordination and publication review. They were joined by Jasper Ho, another medical student with expertise in programming and website design. Due to the overwhelming volume of literature published daily, four additional medical students were recruited to assist with publication review (Jillian Howden, Maya Amar, Sara Markovic, John Kim).
The Creation of a Publication Repository
The team’s initial goal was to create a repository of screened publications that would be circulated to frontline physicians in the Hamilton area. To achieve this, PubMed-indexed publications about COVID-19 would be screened for relevance to frontline clinicians and scientists. This database would centralize the most relevant and significant COVID-19 publications.
We realized that it would be more beneficial for all physicians and researchers to be able to access our work, regardless of location or specialty. This sparked the creation of an open-source online tool where our most up-to-date results would be published and categorized. To achieve this, we use a flexible filtering system. For example, an ER physician interested in the latest guidelines regarding the intubation of COVID-19 patients can access articles related to airway management in COVID-positive patients quickly. Similarly, an internist interested in all COVID-related randomized clinical trials published within a particular journal can access these publications with only a few clicks. Articles can be filtered based on journal, type of study, authors, and medical specialty.
Worldwide Impact in the Digital Age
Our team is continually screening new literature and updating the database. To date, we have reviewed over 3000 articles and have included almost 1000 publications relevant to the fight against COVID-19. Since the launch on April 13, we have delivered our work to over 1300 people in 45 countries.
As the pandemic continues to unfold and more research is conducted, our team plans to continue to search PubMed; these publications will be reviewed on a weekly basis and subsequently entered into the database. We will continue to promote our project and collaborate with other COVID-19 resources in order to ensure that frontline clinicians and researchers are able to access current literature easily and efficiently.
We also hope to continually add features that will aid users in finding the information they need. Features we hope to add include:
- Organizing articles by country of origin
- Statistical breakdown of included studies based on specialty and study type
- Ability to export references in standard formats
- A more nuanced publication type, e.g. evidence-based clinical guidelines or reports of interventions/treatments
As medical students, we remain unsure of how long we will be removed from our clinical rotations. However, we do know that while we may not be able to contribute to patient care directly, we can continue to improve our database and support our frontline health care workers from a distance.
This post was copyedited by @alexsenger.