UArizona Health Sciences Students Analyze COVID-19 Published Research

Jun 1, 2020

To help health care providers and policymakers better understand the immense amount of coronavirus research being released daily, health care volunteers are evaluating the quality of the articles and distilling the information into a manageable format.

Research is being rapidly released about the virus that causes COVID-19, antibody detection and possible treatments. (Photo: Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences)Students at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, in collaboration with researchers, physicians, medical students and others across the country, have created the COVID-19 Literature Surveillance Team. The project, known as the COVID-19 LST, began under the direction of Jasmine Rah, a third-year medical student at the University of Washington.

“The COVID-19 LST is a professional group of affiliated volunteers from across a variety of disciplines and under the guidance of physicians who have been brought together by one mission: to help increase situational awareness, while informing frontline health care providers and key decision makers,” said Erin Hartnett, a fourth-year medical student at the College of Medicine – Phoenix. “Many medical students have been sidelined by the pandemic and are looking for ways to contribute to the response.”

The team grew from two contributors, Hartnett and Rah, in early April to now more than 30 contributors. Hartnett is among the 23 students at the College of Medicine – Phoenix who are involved with the COVID-19 LST. Other collaborators are associated with the College of Medicine – Tucson, University of Washington, Western University of Health Sciences, United States Air Force and Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany.

Erin Hartnett“Medical students, physicians and scientists are taught to analyze data for quality and applicability, so it seemed prudent to use their skills during a time when many of them were unable to help the efforts in person,” Hartnett said. “We give our time to maximize the time of policy leaders, health care workers, and scientists on the frontlines. By compacting and filtering the daily flow of information, our readers are able to quickly find information that is valuable to them and to instantly be able to know how reliable that information is.”

The COVID-19 LST conducts ongoing reviews and posts the results to its website. The reports are shared across all sectors of the COVID-19 response, including medical schools and facilities in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Canada. They also are used by government agencies, such as in the U.S. Army by Col. Will Smith, MD, one of the co-founders of the project.

The team uses the five-level Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine Levels of Evidence descriptions to evaluate the quality of articles. However, they have taken it a step further by adding a sixth level for articles that do not cite any data.

“We found this was necessary because many publications have suspended peer review, which means research is getting published and distributed without properly being vetted,” Hartnett said.

Health care workers don personal protective equipment, known as PPE, before treating patients with the virus that causes COVID-19. Some research conducted during the pandemic included efficacy of PPE to protect against the virus’ spread. (Photo: Noelle Haro-Gomez/University of Arizona Health Sciences)The range goes from Level 1, which would include highly reliable, meta-analysis reviews of published studies, to Level 6 – the team’s new addition – which would be an article without any cited data. Level 6 articles are often someone’s opinion without cited reasoning or a news article reporting on developments without a source.

Hartnett said there are a number of “predatory journals” where people pay a hefty fee and can publish anything they want regardless of evidence.

“This is posing an increasing threat to the response and the scientific narrative surrounding the pandemic,” Hartnett said. “By critiquing levels of evidence, we hope to mitigate some of these effects.”

“The most surprising things have been the breadth of research being conducted now and the quality of the research published,” Hartnett said. “We have seen noticeable trends of improving research quality since the start of the pandemic. Even a couple weeks ago, we often saw articles that seemed to focus more on speculation or possible research directions as opposed to proven data with good quality evidence.”

The group created a 10-minute daily podcast, The COVID-19 LST Report, that can be streamed on major podcast platforms.

More information on the college’s activities regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is at this link.

The UArizona Health Sciences COVID-19 Resources webpage can be found here.

For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university’s COVID-19 webpage.

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A version of this article appeared originally on the UANews and College of Medicine – Phoenix websites.

NOTE: Photos available upon request.

About the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
Founded in 2007, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. By cultivating collaborative research locally and globally, the college accelerates discovery in a number of critical areas — including cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease. Championed as a student-centric campus, the college has graduated 500 physicians, all of whom received exceptional training from nine clinical partners and 1,800 diverse faculty members. As the anchor to the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, which is projected to have an economic impact of $3.1 billion by 2025, the college prides itself on engaging with the community, fostering education, inclusion, access and advocacy. For more information, please visit (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

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