IHR Newsletter

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How the Institute for Health Research is Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since COVID-19 (SARS CO V2) began sweeping the U.S. in March 2020, Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s Institute for Health Research (IHR) has taken a leading role in providing information to KPCO to make care delivery decisions to care for our members and community.

Tracking COVID-19 at KPCO

In March, Dr. Stan Xu led an effort with IHR biostatisticians to create an innovative Colorado-specific model to monitor the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization data. The IHR team, including biostatistician Christina Clarke, MS, continues to provide weekly updates on hospitalization growth rates to KPCO leadership You can read more about the development of this monitoring model in Dr. Xu’s publication in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science.

Collaborating with Jennifer Mattern and Jasper Milliken of KPCO’s Care Delivery Analytics team, Drs. Elizabeth Bayliss and Claudia Steiner and data specialist Heather Tavel developed a Symptom Surveillance Report to support system wide monitoring for any increase in COVID-19 consistent symptoms. This report gathers information daily from KPCO care delivery data including telephone, email, in-person visit and video encounters to estimate the number of people with possible COVID-like illness, in an effort to maintain an early awareness of possible COVID-19 cases at KPCO.

Data from both the hospitalization monitoring model and the Surveillance Report provides KPCO operational leaders evidence they can use to plan for future changes in the COVID-19 pandemic. This allows KPCO to take proactive, data-driven steps to ensure that staff, members and the community are protected.

Treating COVID-19 through Clinical Trials

As the world continues to search for safe and effective treatments for COVID-19, the IHR’s Clinical Trials Team, led by Dr. Rebecca Boxer, is involved in both local and international collaborations studying new potential therapies. One such treatment is convalescent plasma. Plasma, the liquid part of a person’s blood, contains antibodies made by the immune system when fighting a new infection. The blood of people fully recovered from COVID-19 has these antibodies and may help treat people hospitalized with COVID-19.

As a member of the statewide Colorado COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project Consortium, the IHR’s Clinical Trials team works alongside Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado State University, Denver Health Medical Center, National Jewish Health, SCL Health, UCHealth, the University of Colorado Anschutz Campus, and the Vitalant Blood Center and Research Institute. The consortium’s mission is to gather and deliver COVID-19 convalescent plasma to patients with severe COVID-19 infections.

For more news covering KPCO’s role in the Colorado COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project Consortium, read:

Partnering with Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver the Clinical Trials team also participated in a study of the drug Remdesivir, another potential treatment. This international clinical trial will combine data from 31 COVID-19 patients who have received Remdesivir in Colorado with thousands of patients from around the world. This study recently completed enrollment The IHR Clinical Trials Team continues to engage in studies of other medications and therapies that could help COVID-19 patients. (Click for more news related to the Remdesivir study.)

Understanding COVID-19 Antibodies

A major unknown aspect of COVID-19 is whether people who had the infection can get it again, and, how long their immune system will remember the infection to prevent it in the future. In mid-June, IHR researchers Dr. Ingrid Binswanger and Dr. Jason Glanz began looking at these very issues through a COVID-19 antibody project financed by the Garfield Memorial Fund. Their study invites KPCO members to answer questions about their health through repeated surveys and recommends viral and/or antibody tests based on their survey responses. By collecting survey information and asking members to get tested, Dr. Binswanger and Dr. Glanz hope to learn more about the immune response when a person has the COVID-19 virus and how long antibodies may last. The information obtained through this study will help us estimate how widespread COVID-19 is in different groups of people and help scientists working to create an effective and safe vaccine.

Addressing Food Needs During COVID-19

Beyond the immediate effects on our bodies, COVID-19 also greatly affects our social structures, including how we are able to access food. The IHR’s Meals MATTER project is carried out in collaboration with local partner Project Angel Heart and provides meals to members with chronic illnesses who were recently hospitalized and recovering at home.

Initially this work was primarily focused on learning more about how long to deliver these meals and meal delivery’s effect on depression and anxiety. But when COVID-19 caused most of us to limit how often we leave home, even for essential items like food, the Meals MATTER study was greatly affected. Given the project’s focus on members with chronic illnesses, the introduction of COVID-19 increased the team’s early estimates of who would want to receive this service from Project Angel Heart. This his has led Meals MATTER to expand beyond its original mission, provide more meals and increase the qualitative work of the study on food needs of the household. With this pivot to address hidden food needs in the community, Meals MATTER is responding to the current moment for our members and expanding our understanding of how the pandemic is affecting member food insecurity.

Gaining an Understanding of COVID-19 and its effects through the KP Research Bank

In the wake of COVID-19, the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank (KPRB) has re-purposed the efforts of its recruitment staff nationwide to send online surveys to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey development was led by the IHR’s Dr. Andrea Burnett-Hartman and the study started by emailing 253,000 KPRB members beginning in April 2020

More than 128,000 KPRB members responded to the first COVID-19 survey and these members are currently sent follow-up surveys every 2 weeks to gather up-to-date information and evaluate change overtime. The survey covers the following major topics:

  • Possible COVID-19 symptoms and date of symptom onset going back to January 1, 2020
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Individual and household COVID-19 symptoms, testing and results
  • Hospitalizations
  • Household size and age distribution
  • Social distancing behaviors
  • Changes in healthcare services utilization (e.g. Cancelled appointments, use of virtual care, reduced prescription medication use)
  • Behavior change (food, exercise, sleep, sitting, smoking, drinking)
  • Smoking history (including smoking in the home, cigarette smoking, vaping, and inhaled marijuana use)
  • Mental health impact (loneliness, anxiety, depression)
  • Financial strain
  • Food insecurity

To learn more about the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank, visit: https://researchbank.kaiserpermanente.org/

Moving Forward

This pandemic has and will continue to impact our lives for months to come but we are learning more every day about how to address it’s physical and social toll. KPCO IHR researchers are proud and determined to move important research forward to help the KPCO and Colorado community.