The BC COVID-19 Strategic Research Advisory Committee (SRAC) has been established to serve as a bridge between the Provincial Health Officer, government decision-makers and the health research community in BC in the specific area of COVID-19 research.
The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) is providing strategic support and serving as the secretariat of this committee. Further, MSFHR is providing funding through its COVID-19 Research Response Fund, which will support research questions arising through the pandemic. Partner organizations, including the BC Academic Health Science Network (BC AHSN), are leading key activities in support of the provincial research response to COVID-19.
SRAC has developed its first version of an adaptive research framework – the BC COVID-19 Strategic Research Framework: An Evolving Guide for Decision-makers and Researchers (Issue 1, April 2020). This is Issue 1, developed by SRAC with input from the Public Health Officer and Health Emergency Coordination Centre; Health Research Council of BC; Ministry of Health; and MSFHR. The Framework will evolve as the pandemic unfolds, and be based on additional input and feedback from a wide variety of provincial stakeholders, including patient and public, facilitated by BC AHSN.
BC AHSN, through one of its operating units, the BC SUPPORT Unit, is well placed to ensure that the voices of patients and the public can be heard effectively in the provincial COVID-19 research response. This page is an overview of the proposed plan that’s currently being developed to achieve this goal. More details will be available soon.
Overview of the plan
This plan is being developed by leadership of the BC SUPPORT Unit, in consultation with patient partners, BC-based researchers, and staff of the BC SUPPORT Unit, both those located in our regional centres and those from the Provincial Hub office in Vancouver.
The process in which patient and public voices will be heard effectively in the provincial COVID-19 response involves a two-pronged approach:
(A) Direct patient and public engagement; and
(B) Ensuring a patient-oriented research (POR) environment in BC that supports the research response to COVID-19.
(A) Direct patient and public engagement
Our primary intent is to rapidly engage patient/public partners to support BC’s COVID-19 research response. This engagement will see patient/public views being heard clearly by the BC COVID-19 SRAC and will ensure that patient/public voices have a direct linkage through to COVID-19 research teams and policy makers.
This aspect will involve both engagement with the Unit’s existing patient/public partners and outreach to new partners. The former facilitates rapid action, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and relationships, whereas the latter will ensure direct engagement with lived COVID-19 experience.
The BC SUPPORT Unit has a cadre of experienced, trained and willing patient partners, able to draw on their experience of extensive engagement in health research. These partners, who are encouraged and supported to respond to needs of health researchers, will be invited to join this initiative. The Unit is provincial in scope and using our full provincial network of patient partners will ensure that this work has geographical spread throughout BC.
In addition, our intent involves outreach to new public/patient partners, to ensure diversity of perspectives and direct COVID-19 lived experience. A variety of channels will be employed to ensure we hear the voices of vulnerable populations, recovered COVID–19 patients, and family members of recovered or deceased patients.
This first step in taking this work forward will be for the BC SUPPORT Unit’s Provincial Patient Council to review, and give comment on, the first issue of the BC COVID-19 Strategic Research Framework prepared by the SRAC. This document is described as an evolving guide for decision-makers and researchers, and we’re informing that evolution through listening to public and patient voices. Subsequent activities will include outreach, training and engagement in a virtual setting through rapid implementation of an action plan.
Training and education will be provided for all patient/public partners with whom we engage to ensure a safe and culturally–appropriate environment for this work.
(B) Ensuring a patient-oriented COVID-19 research environment in BC
We wish to ensure that BC’s research response to COVID-19 has a strong public and patient orientation. The COVID-19 context necessitates some adaptation of typical POR approaches, to ensure safety and security for patients, public and community partners, and to most effectively meet the needs of the funders and research teams. For example, the BC SUPPORT Unit is actively working to customize its current training workshops to be delivered virtually and is offering technical resources and training to POR teams to support work in a virtual environment.
In partnership with MSFHR, the BC SUPPORT Unit is supporting research teams responding to the first COVID-19 Research Response Fund call who wish to engage public and patient partners, to adopt a POR approach. This support comes in the form of Unit service support, training and top-up funding to successful applicants. Such supports can also be made available to COVID-19 research teams funded through other agencies. The additional POR funding available to COVID-19 research teams is to support public and patient involvement in all research activities (for example, ensuring patients/public have access to appropriate compensation).
Many POR research teams, established well before the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing other health research questions, have chosen to transition their current projects to be relevant and directly applicable to the current crisis. The BC SUPPORT Unit is offering the same level of support to such research teams and to be reflective of a rapid response environment.
The BC SUPPORT Unit is committed to learning and sharing through this stream of work. Therefore, we will be tracking all of our activities in support of the SRAC, and the projects funded by the MSFHR COVID-19 Research Response Fund, so that all key lessons are captured, learned and acted upon. These activities and lessons learned will be shared with all partners involved in the BC research response to COVID-19.