Research Spotlight: COVID-19 Clinical and Research studies at NYGH

September 14, 2021

COVID-19 – Clinical and Research Studies at North York General Hospital (NYGH)

North York General Hospital launched several COVID-19 clinical and research studies, involving frontline physicians and staff members from various departments across the hospital to advance our understanding and ability to treat this virus. This Research Spotlight features an international COVID-19 study led by Dr. Karen Tu, a research scientist under NYGH’s Research & Innovation department and Research Director for NYGH’s Family Medicine department. Karen provides a glimpse into her COVID-19 study, as well as her thoughts on the future implications of this disease.

Dr. Karen Tu

Could you tell us a bit about the COVID-19 study you are performing?

In the spring of 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, our lives changed dramatically including the delivery of health care, especially in primary care. Recognizing that the impact has not only been felt in Canada, but also globally, I reached out to family physician researchers around the world to see if they would collaborate with me in conducting international comparative studies. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and in just a few days, I engaged with family physician researchers from nine different countries such as Australia, Norway, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Joining forces, our group of researchers had access to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) data and insurance claims data from approximately 35 million patients worldwide. Sparked by the universal recognition of how important it is to understand the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on primary care, I applied to the spring 2020 North York General Exploration Fund to kick-start this collaboration. I was successful in this internal peer-reviewed competition and I am very grateful to the NYGH donors and the North York General Foundation for making this possible!

The Exploration Fund award was the seed to establish the International Consortium of Primary Care Big Data Researchers (INTRePID), and subsequently, secure a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant to study the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in primary care. 

How does INTRePID work? What are the main areas of study?

INTRePID is now actively working with 18 researchers who attend meetings every 2-3 weeks. Our first topic of interest is the switch to virtual care in primary care. Topics for future studies are identified on a regular basis and all members are eager to participate in this consortium.

What is the importance of your COVID-19 study within our community/hospital setting?

We hope that our work will provide a better understanding of primary care delivery in our community, hospital setting, and beyond. We anticipate being able to identify gaps in care which could be a potential focus for program development or policy changes. Ultimately, INTRePID is positioning NYGH as a leader in international primary care EMR research which is really exciting to see.

How do you see the future of COVID-19?

We are still not over this pandemic, but we will all feel the pandemic’s lasting impact in the years to come, so how we cope and how we recover will be important areas to pay attention to and study. Through our research, we hope to point out important lessons learned that will prepare us well in the case of another pandemic.