Experts, policy makers and researchers worldwide are scrambling to keep up with the influx of potentially relevant COVID-19 studies to assist local governments, NGOs, hospitals, etc with the development of evidence-based policy guidelines. At the time of writing (May 14th 2020) about 300 publications a day become available and it is no longer cost-efficient nor feasible to screen them all to select those studies that maybe relevant for a certain question or activity. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) therefore set up an international project, screening and categorising COVID-19 studies, to provide policy makers and researchers quick access to specific topic-relevant publications. The live map of COVID-19 evidence not only identifies current research but also highlights research gaps which might guide future research efforts.
The FHI team searches multiple databases and these searches are repeated ideally each day. After removing duplicates, a time-consuming process, references are screened to make sure only COVID-19 studies are retained and those studies are assigned priority tiers based on study design and data type. Studies from the top tiers (systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, non-randomised studies with and without control groups and in vitro/vivo/silico studies and case reports) are then categorized in duplicate by study design, type of data, population and research topics (including diagnostics, prevention, treatment etc.). Each of the broad categories are further refined in subcategories up to 3 levels deep. Publications without primary or secondary data (such as comments and editorials) are retained in the database but not visualized on the map.
For the last month, one of CEBaP’s researchers has been involved in this categorisation effort in collaboration with Cochrane Belgium. Every week she receives and categorises a new batch of studies, while a NIPH researcher classifies the same studies in parallel. After a consensus meeting to resolve the last categorisation inconsistencies, the studies are ready to be added to the map during its weekly update.
This work allows experts and researchers, including those of CEBaP, to quickly access only those studies relevant to their topic of interest, allowing them to have up-to-date and high quality information.
CEBaP benefits even more from this collaboration. As we described in our last news item, we were also searching and assessing the most recently published COVID-19 studies to identify any study which might be relevant to Belgian Red Cross (BRC) operations. With the wide variety of topics relevant to BRC we would have to screen the live map completely each week. However, FHI now sends CEBaP researchers a weekly list of the top tier studies and only those will still have to be screened, reducing the workload by at least 80%.