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ASH 2020 Study Preview: Do Research Coordinators Work Better At Home?

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A talk with Kim Jenkins, MSNM about ASH abstract 3441: Increased Productivity and Efficiency Among Cancer Center Clinical Trials Workforce during the COVID-19 Pandemic

What are the highlights that attendees should take away from your presentation?

My research focuses on the behind-the-scenes cancer research team, which is comprised of research coordinators (RCs). My RC team has traditionally been based in the office setting and are non-patient facing. We are responsible for the regulatory and data entry aspects of nearly 400 clinical trials and 2,000 research patients across our research oncology department.

On March 1, 2020, I received approval for 17 RCs to each work from home one day a week as part of a remote work pilot project. As part of this pilot project, we developed a productivity tracker in RedCap, in which my coordinators entered the number of data fields they completed each day, whether at home or in the office, and they recorded the time it took them to complete that data entry. This was our productivity metric.

Then, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 25, 2020, my entire team of 60 RCs was sent home to work, save coming in one day a week to address printing and filing of original documentation. All told, 58 RCs’ productivity was tracked from March 1 through June 29, and a total of 2,369 total observations were involved in this analysis. Note that two RCs’ productivity tracking were removed from our analysis due to inconsistent data entry. Continuous variables were summarized using median and interquartile range (IQR). Because data are clustered by RC, comparisons between working location were made using a logistic regression model with a random intercept for RC, and lastly, a p-value <.05 considered statistically significant.

What is the central question that your study and/or presentation tries to answer?

The central question is: Do non-patient-facing RCs remain productive when working from home? The answer is yes, they are actually more productive when working from home.

If applicable, what are the key findings from your study?

RCs entered significantly more data fields at home per day (96, IQR 32-240) compared to the office (75, IQR 35-145) (p<.001). 

Median data fields entered per hour by RCs from home and the office were 40 (20, 72) and 21(13, 36), respectively, with a trend toward significance (p=0.064).

Because it takes RCs roughly three hours to enter data and they are nearly twice as efficient doing data entry at home, on an average 8-hour work day, this translates to RCs being 17% more productive over all.

How do these findings and/or conclusions potentially impact clinical practice?

I think traditional, academic medical centers have been averse to sending their clinical research teams to work from home. Ironically, the major pharmaceutical companies and CROs we work alongside have been taking advantage of home-based teams for decades. Many companies in the tech, health insurance, customer service and sales sectors have employed home-based workers for decades as well. I believe my research has the potential to help increase the confidence that leaders at academic medical centers have in their teams remaining productive when working from home. Employees do not have to be in direct view of upper-level management in order to remain highly productive at home.

What else would you like attendees to know about your presentation?

We observed that hematology RCs have more data entry duties compared to solid tumor RCs. Hematology RCs completed a median of 150 (IQR 47-329) data fields per day where as solid tumor RCs completed a median of 65 (IQR 25-159) data fields per day.

Also, the time it takes my team to open trials has dramatically reduced since Q3 of 2019, and the number of trials we are able to open each quarter has nearly doubled since 2019. While there were other important factors that contributed to these successes, I firmly believe that my team’s increased productivity helped buoy these successes.

What are 3–5 questions you would ask attendees about the topic of your presentation to spark an engaging conversation?

- Why do you think employees are more productive at home?

- What are gaps that you see in my research, what else can I research or show to help support my conclusions?

- I’m curious to know whether and how much my team’s carbon footprint has been reduced, due to 60 people no longer commuting to work for the past seven months. Does anyone know how I can make that calculation?

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