Supporting reliable clinical information in the age of COVID-19

by Osler Staff | Aug 11, 2020

ICU staff member adjusts settings on IV monitor

For a pair of William Osler Health System (Osler) physicians, April 2020 brought with it a sense of foreboding – and an opportunity to help as the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario began to climb steadily.

“The full extent of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario wasn’t yet known, but we were watching closely what was happening in Italy,” recalls Dr. Brooks Fallis, Medical Director and Division Head, Critical Care. “They have a good medical system, yet the virus hit them so hard. We were concerned about the impact it could have here, too, both in terms of our day-to-day operations and the patient flow through our hospitals.”

As cases in Ontario grew, Dr. Fallis and colleague Dr. Andrew Healey, Interim Chief of Emergency Medicine and Chair, COVID-19 Clinical Response Committee, also identified a new need among the clinicians who were responding to the pandemic.

“There was so much information to digest,” Dr. Healey notes. “Guidelines around personal protective equipment (PPE). Diagnosis and screening protocols. Medical management guidelines. New clinical trials. We were all doing our best, but the volume of news was overwhelming, and sometimes contradictory. We were providing notes to Osler’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team, but things were changing so quickly and it was hard to capture the nuances by memo. It became apparent that we needed a better solution.”

Supported by Osler’s COVID Clinical Response and Medical Advisory committees, the doctors created a website to provide trustworthy, up-to-date information for clinicians that was readily accessible and all in one place.

“This site was created as a conduit of reliable, high-quality clinical information,” says Dr. Fallis. “That was the first thing; there’s so much out there about COVID-19, but it has such extreme variations in quality. Good information is essential to good care.”

Also a priority was the site’s ease of use. “We wanted the site to be straightforward, so clinicians could easily access information through a desktop icon or smartphone, regardless of where they were, and intuitively be able to find what they need,” he says. Almost immediately, the site became a go-to place for Osler clinicians to retrieve hospital recommendations for patients infected with COVID-19.

What began as an internal tool, however, quickly evolved into a resource for a much broader audience. To ensure that easy access, the site was hosted outside of Osler’s firewall – which had the added benefit of making it available to anyone on the internet.

“We started hearing from other clinicians across the country who had discovered the site and were also using it,” says Dr. Healey. “We had over 200,000 hits in the first month, which really speaks to our collective needs in those early days. All across Canada, we needed to adapt to this new reality. Reliable information and practical guidance were key to our COVID response.”

Several months later, the website remains available as a resource for the medical community. Osler’s COVID-19 Clinical Response Committee continues to update its content, which has further grown through the contributions of other experts. “Our committee has a broad membership, and we also pull in others as their specialized knowledge is needed,” says Dr. Healey. “We often consult with experts both within and outside of our hospitals, and we’re tremendously fortunate to have their support during this challenging time.”

Going forward, the doctors know their work is far from over, especially as restrictions are being eased across Ontario and Canada.

“This virus continues to evolve,” notes Dr. Fallis, “and we are constantly revisiting the literature. We look at growing trends in the medical community, updates on clinical trials, new information that’s emerged. The most important thing is that the site remains a reliable reference for health care professionals. We’re in this together.”

The website, www.CovidCriticalCare.ca, remains active to assist clinicians in the fight against COVID-19. Visitors to the site can also subscribe to email updates to be informed when new information is posted.