We never lost sight of job #1 –
successfully building rapport with the participants.”
~ Barbara David, Field Director
“Many of the changes will be maintained even after COVID restrictions are relaxed.”
~ Victoria Albright, Project Director
Adapting in-person interviewing to protect subjects and staff
We were three weeks away from going to the field. We had arranged for 20 interviewers to conduct in-home interviews in 36 locations across the nation. We had the blessing of the Institutional Review Board (aptly called BRANY). The interviewers had completed their certification for Informed Consent administration and Global Pharmacovigilance Safety Information and Product Quality Complaint Training program. The 87-page Field Manual was in final form and project-specific training sessions were 10 days away. Each interviewer had a shiny, new HP ProBook, a photo ID badge, a supply of urine drug screen kits, and a brand-new roller bag to carry all their materials as they met with study subjects in the subject’s home. We heard rumblings about interviewers needing gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes. No problem. They were already tucked into their roller bags.
Then we received notice from the Institutional Review Board that all in-person interviewing had been suspended until further notice due to risks associated with COVID-19 infection.
The news was devastating on so many fronts, personal and professional. There is no easy pause button on a longitudinal survey, or simple way to obtain a urine sample. Many of our field staff were in the age range that made them extra vulnerable to the infection. All the privacy protections we had built around home visits had to be replaced with on-line security measures. All the “personal touches” that helped us achieve 70% and 80% response rates had to be achieved virtually. And most challenging, how would subjects be able to do the survey online if they did not have a suitable computer or device to view the questions and enter answers.
This was not our only study affected. We quickly consulted with our IT staff, Field Director, and other researchers to establish what measure could be taken to move to remote access. Shout out to Adverra, a commercial IRB service, for its exceptional set of webinars on IRB-sanctioned methods to move to remote data collection.
Within three weeks we had a series of adaptations that accommodated most of the most critical features of the study design that did not raise costs. We found a way to provision subjects with electronic devices to read the survey and enter responses. Shout out to our IT Manager, Brad Bradsher, for revamping our data security systems to work remotely. We moved to electronic Informed Consent statements. IRB protocols were modified to allow us to use subject email addresses. Incentive payments were converted from personal money orders to re-loadable debit cards. (We even had an accommodation for collecting urine samples but it was, unfortunately, not cost neutral.)
Shout out to Barbara Davis, our Field Director, for her magnificent management of our field staff through this tumult. We could not avoid the devastation this caused to our field staff. Far fewer people were needed to conduct the study remotely that were needed to do in-home visits. To help mitigate the loss of income for our staff, CamBright remarketed our interviewers’ skills to serve as contact tracers.
Digital disruption as a result of COVID-19 has also forced researchers to adopt new methods for conducting qualitative research virtually. The use of a virtual research platform can enable you to capture rich human emotions and opinions found in video, collect in-the-moment feedback, and source the most innovative ideas from customers to drive both growth and revenue. CamBright operates remote research sessions that keep you aligned with changes in your research domain and your study populations.