Pre-lab processing for OB-GYN research curbside specimen collections
Researchers with Indiana University School of Medicine aren’t letting the COVID-19 pandemic keep them from continuing important studies to improve the health of pregnant women. They’re using a new “curbside collection” method to get the patient samples they need while keeping everyone as safe as possible as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
“We can have research participants fill out surveys online, but the main component that a lot of our studies have is the collection of biologic specimens,” said David Haas, MD, vice chair of research for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “We knew this was a difficult thing if people weren’t coming into clinic and we didn’t have research staff in clinic.”
Like many others, the department transitioned as many staff as possible to work from home beginning in March 2020. Haas said after a few weeks, his research team got the idea to start curbside collections from the drive-up COVID-19 testing done by Eli Lilly and Co. Patients participating in studies drive up to a designated area on campus where they venture only a short distance away from their car to provide the necessary samples, like blood, urine, blood pressure and other vitals. Patients and research staff collecting the samples all wear masks and other personal protective equipment. Whenever a patient is finished, they simply get back in their car and drive off.
“Typically, the women are only there for about 20 or 30 minutes at the most,” Haas said. “Then when we get the bio-specimens we need, a staff member can run them over to the lab to get them all processed in the right timeframe.”
Haas said there are signs posted as well asking patients to keep their window rolled up and leave to seek other medical care if they have any coronavirus symptoms, like fever, cough or shortness of breath. While they’re doing their best to keep the setup simple, only collecting basic vital sign data and specimens, they also have juice and water in case someone gets lightheaded when getting blood drawn and other equipment on hand to make sure they’re prepared to keep everyone safe.
The curbside collections are happening twice a week on campus and are impacting several major studies, including the Hoosier Moms Cohort, part of the IU Grand Challenges Precision Health Initiative, and the Building Blocks of Pregnancy Biobank. The team is also getting ready to start testing pregnant women participating in the collections for COVID-19 to study how coronavirus may affect pregnancy outcomes.
“It's a solution to a problem nobody anticipated, but it's a solution that I think is working really well and allowing us to keep going with important research,” Haas said. “Because many of these studies are time sensitive, it was deemed as 'essential' research to carry on.”
Even after the spread of coronavirus slows down and clinics reopen, Haas said the department is looking into keeping the curbside collection method an option.
“I think there is a possibility to keep it up with other studies,” Haas said. “It would be really ideal for people who do not get care in one of our facilities or for people who don’t have a lot of time. They may not want to find parking or they may not have childcare readily available. This setup could work for that.”