Informatics and the COVID-19 Crisis: The Role of Information Systems and Clinical Trials Databases

by Gulzar H. Shah, PhD, and Karl E. Peace, PhD

I have a broad network of public health colleagues in academia, public health practice, and policy organizations. For this podcast, I connected with an individual who has contributed more than others in my network to the advancement of public health education and development of drugs to treat multiple diseases and medical conditions, Dr. Karl E. Peace. Dr. Peace also has an extensive record of philanthropy to education and public health. He has created 21 endowments at five institutions, including the college where I currently serve, the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health named after his late wife Dr. Jiann-Ping Hsu. For a complete list of his accomplishments, read this brief biography.

In the accompanying podcast, I asked Dr. Peace to share his knowledge about three themes related to our topic: (a) the role of information systems and data analytics in surveillance of COVID-19, (b) the state of clinical trial research focused on assessing the efficacy and safety of potential interventions to prevent or treat COVID-19, and (c) the benefits of generating a database of clinical trials for meta-analysis of trials’ results. Do such databases exist for COVID-19 clinical trials in the US?

Information Systems and COVID-19 Surveillance: Accuracy and Quality Do Matter

While discussing theme (a), Dr. Peace mentioned that information systems, and data analytics “serve indispensable roles” in COVID-19 surveillance. So, I specifically asked him to provide specifics about the role of data analytics in COVID-19 response. Without stealing his thunder (from the accompanying podcast below), here is a teaser—he discussed how information systems facilitate COVID-19 patients’ engagement and care coordination while reducing the financial burdens for the healthcare systems. Based on my own research, I have come to realize that the public health and healthcare organizations vary in the functionality of the information systems and quality of data. So I asked Dr. Peace about the extent to which, in his opinion, the quality and accuracy of data matter in their usefulness for COVID-19 response efforts. He mentioned several issues but his points about the accuracy of numerators and denominators are worth consideration. I could not let go of the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts concerning ways to address the issues he had highlighted about accuracy of information flowing from multiple information systems. In a nutshell, use of reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information sources is the answer.

State of Clinical Trials Research on COVID-19

In  the next phase of our interview, we discussed the state of clinical trial research focused on assessing the efficacy and safety of potential interventions to prevent or treat COVID-19. Dr. Peace believes that activities of the federal governmental agencies, the European Union, and the pharmaceutical industry (PHRMA) are impressive. Upon my inquiry about the magnitude of clinical trials by broader categories of their focus, Dr. Peace mentioned that globally, more than 660 clinical trials were already happening for testing COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, of which 20% were in the United States. Again, he goes into details about the purpose of these trials in the podcast.

Benefits of Clinical Trials Databases

In our last segment of the podcast, we discussed whether such databases existed and if so, the benefits of generating a database of clinical trials for meta-analysis of trials’ results. Dr. Peace said it was too early for clinical trials databases of COVID-19 to exist, but much effort is ongoing in creating them and that they will have numerous benefits when accessible. He also highlighted the usefulness of meta-analysis as a scientific process and shared that the the Global Health Network lists those databases, including 13 trial trackers that have been developed to aid in the tracking and identification of trials and studies concerning COVID-19.

Related Resources:

Dr. Peace shared references to the following online resources that supported his podcast discussion:

Theme (a)

Theme (b)

Theme (c)

Gulzar H. Shah, PhD, MStat, MS, currently serves as a Professor of Health Policy and Management and the Department Chair, Health Policy and Community Health, at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH), Georgia Southern University. He served the JPHCOPH as an Associate Dean for Research before accepting the Department Chair position in 2017. Prior to moving into academia, Dr. Shah spent over 17 years serving in public health practice, first at the Utah State Department of Health, and subsequently at the National Association of Health Data Organizations (NAHDO) and National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). [Full bio.]

Karl E. Peace, PhD, is senior research scientist and professor of biostatistics in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH) at Georgia Southern University and Adjunct Professor of Biostatistics at the VCU School of Medicine. He holds a PhD in biostatistics from the Medical College of Virginia, and an MS in mathematics from Clemson University. He has made pivotal contributions in the development and approval of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, to prevent and treat gastrointestinal ulcers, to reduce the risk of myocardial infarction, to treat anxiety, depression and panic attacks, to treat hypertension and arthritis and several antibiotics. Dr. Peace is the recipient of 12 citations and awards.

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