Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Letter to Our Research Participants

COVID-19 has changed every aspect of our lives, including how we conduct research and how people participate in research. During these challenging times, we want to pause and thank our research participants for their part volunteering to help us advance health at MedStar. Below is a letter we are sharing with the thousands of research participants actively participating in clinical trials across the MedStar Health system.

Dear Valued Research Participant,

It's an extraordinary time for our communities, our nation, and the world. At MedStar Health Research Institute (MHRI), our primary responsibility related to research is to protect the safety of our research participants and our research staff.

As we make every effort to observe the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive, we want to continue to keep your health and the delivery of your needs front and center during this unprecedented time. Our highly skilled research teams have processes in place to ensure the continuity of research while keeping you, the research participant, at the heart of everything we do.

Your participation in research remains very important to us. Research studies can often be modified so they can be conducted in a safe manner that protects you, researchers, and the community. There are several ways we try to minimize your risk. If possible, we will limit the number of times you have to come to a clinical care site or research site. We are screening every research participant for COVID-19 symptoms, and we are reducing the time spent in a clinical care or research site while keeping you a safe distance from others. We are moving toward remote data collection methods to the extent possible such as a change from an in-person visit to a telephone visit or other electronic methods for visits and follow-up. If your research study includes taking a study drug, it may even be possible to send your study drug directly to your home. Since your safety is our highest concern, in some cases, your research tests or visits may be cancelled, or your research study may be put on hold. We have asked our research team to reach out to every participant to discuss any potential changes with you.

The information related to risks of COVID-19 changes every day and we know there will be further challenges. We have implemented best practices for virtual working. We look forward to working through these challenges together and exploring new approaches as we continue to focus on your health.

We are heartened by your commitment for the important work we do in the face of such adversity and we thank you for your continued partnership. For questions or additional information on MedStar Health Research Institute's response during this time, please reach out to us at Research@medstar.net.

Neil J. Weissman, MD

President, MedStar Health Research Institute

Thank you to the MHRI Administrative Staff for diligently stuffing envelopes, applying labels, and ensuring these letters reach our participants.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Research at MedStar During COVID-19

During these unprecedented times, we are all individually and organizationally challenged.  Below is a graphic that has been circulating in social media that I really like because it helps describe the different emotions and attitudes we are all have.  We all want to learn and grow from this pandemic but the truth is we also share in the fear.

At MHRI, I am so incredibly proud of the work going on throughout this pandemic.  As an organization, I am confident we are spending most of our time learning and growing - we have found ways to modify protocols to maximize patient and associate safety by increasing remote work, tele-health visits for follow up assessments, remote data monitoring for sponsors and direct delivery of investigational treatments.  Across MedStar, we have approximately 85% of our studies still active, to some degree and almost 90% of our associates working remotely, at least part of the time.  That is a tremendous accomplishment that shows we are solidly in the 'growth zone'.  Thank you to all my MHRI colleagues and to the research participants. 

Stay safe.  Stay well.  Remain physically distant but emotionally connected.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Life Goes On

With all that’s in the news, it’s nice to have a reminder of all the good that is still happening.
I can’t tell you how incredibly proud I was to open a recent edition of The New England Journal of Medicine and see that a team from MedStar Washington Hospital Center reporting the first US case of a COVID-19 patient with an uncomplicated delivery!  Not only is welcoming a new life into this world exciting, but it’s also a breath of air that life will continue through this.

I am so pleased the rest of the world gets to read about it our teams’ dedication, great, cutting-edge care in our highest profile journal!

The team was: Sara Iqbal, MD; Rachael Overcash, MD; Neggin Mokhtari, MD; Haleema Saeed, MD; Stacey Gold, MD; Tamika Auguste, MD; Muhammad-Usman Mirza, MD; Maria Elena Ruiz, MD; Glenn Wortmann, MD, and Masashi Waga, MS, all from MedStar Washington  Hospital Center, and Joeffrey Chahine, MS, from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

Congratulations and well done!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Physically Distant But Socially Connected

Below is my monthly message for the April 2020 edition of the MHRI newsletter, Focus. You can view Focus online at MedStarResearch.org/FOCUS.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
How are you doing?

Don’t breeze by the question. Take 5 seconds for yourself and check in – How are you doing?

That is how we started our MHRI Virtual Town Hall last week. Using an audience response system that is accessible from any phone regardless of location, we polled the attendees and asked them how they were feeling. The result was a
word-cloud in real time, sharing the feelings of all on the call. It was no surprise that ‘anxious’ was the most common response. The next most common responses were ‘concerned’, ‘worried’, ‘fine’, ‘good’ and ‘hopeful’. Among the next group of responses were ‘calm’ and ‘proud’.

Leave it to the scientist to collect data even when trying to understand feelings! However, I did find it insightful – we are all in a different place and ‘how we are doing’ is undoubtedly going to change day to day and probably even hour by hour. This is a time of intense feelings and its going to be a marathon of intensity. We need to pace ourselves emotionally, as well as physically.

I fill my emotional tank by recognizing the dedication, commitment, compassion and caring that is happening every day across MedStar Health by our heroes on the front line. I also beam with pride that, throughout this pandemic, we continue to advance health in ways that will help patients today and tomorrow. Whether it’s the
New England Journal article about a COVID-19 patient outcome in our system that was published last week or finding out that we are a top enroller nationally in a novel monoclonal antibody trial for critically ill COVID-19 patients, the MedStar Health team continues to amaze me. Hope. Pride. Grateful. Fortunate. These are the feelings others shared during the MHRI Town Hall and these are the feelings I get from their accomplishments. It may not make the concern and worry go away, but it sure does provide a healthy balance.

Stay safe, and as Mark Smith has taught me: let’s get socially connected while we physically distance ourselves because its together that we will get through this pandemic and be stronger because of it.

With heartfelt gratitude,


Read Focus at MedStarResearch.org/FOCUS.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Connecting & Sharing via Technology

As times continue to change, we are continuing to evolve how we respond to them.

Last week, MHRI hosted our first virtual town hall for associates. This was a new experience for us as a team, but it was a great chance to expand our connections during this hectic time. We did keep some things the same as our in-person meetings, including using a polling tool to get audience responses and answer questions.

The first question we asked made use of the technology at hand and allowed us to understand the "feel of the room" without us all being in the room.

It's times like these that remind us to connect with each other. While most are feeling anxious, it was heartening to see submissions of 'hopeful', 'proud', 'fortunate' and grateful' coming from our associates.  We all live with mixed emotions but recognizing all the great work going on every day helps balance things out and allows us, together, to get through this pandemic and emerge stronger.  Stay safe everyone!

Friday, April 3, 2020

You Got a Friend: Working Together in Times of Stress

Guest Blogger:
Shawanna Jackson
Scientific Center Administrative Director, Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Research Network

In this time of uncertainty, we want to remind everyone that we are in this together. As researchers, we are innovative, we effect change, and we offer people hope. Thank you for showing up; thank you for everything that you do.

We hope this rendition of “You Got a Friend” led by Dr. Richard Hinton (Orthopedic Surgeon), with two dozen MedStar Health clinicians and associates, brings a smile to your face! We are all #Healthcare Heroes and we are #MedStar Proud.

Note from Neil:  In addition to Shawanna, MHRI was represented in the video by Garima Arora, Research Coordinator, and  Nikki Lincoln, Teacher (wife of Andrew Lincoln, Researcher Sports/Orthopaedics), along with several PIs. Thank you all for sharing!

This story was also picked up by WJZ 13, Yahoo! News, MSN: The Power Of Music: MedStar Health Employees Send Message Of Unity, Friendship Amid Coronavirus Pandemic