An interview with Tara Hensle, a research coordinator with the University of Illinois - Chicago, School of Pharmacy (UIC) and Illinois ADVANCE (Academic Detailing Visits And New Evidence CEnter).
by Winnie Ho, Program Coordinator
Tags: COVID-19, E-Detailing, Opioid Safety, Program Management, Substance Use
Winnie: Hi Tara! It’s been a crazy year so far, hasn’t it? We want to check in with you and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) team about your experiences in navigating the pandemic. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your role in the ADVANCE academic detailing team?
Tara: I was hired about 7 months ago as the research coordinator, and it’s been one heck of a 7-month run. The majority of my work is focused on implementation, so I do all the scheduling and outreach to hospitals to talk to providers. I develop and establish relationships with office managers and providers, and I assign detailers to visits.
W: Our team at NaRCAD has been lucky to have worked with the UIC and ADVANCE team for a while through our trainings and your presentations at our conferences and our webinar series, and we’re excited about the research intervention that had been planned. Can you tell us a little bit more about the mission?
T: Our intervention is a CDC-sponsored, three pronged approach that’s built off a pilot program that we started in 2018 for Chicago-land providers. We have a team of about 30 detailers who are now trying to cover as much of the state as possible. We wanted to follow-up with providers to get a sense of whether or not the ‘dosage’ of AD made a difference, but we also wanted to expand the providers we worked with, and to introduce updated topics like the new features of the Illinois PMP or opioid alternatives. The third prong is creating a toolkit to give programs a blueprint and resources of what was effective for us. We would love to make the “how to” of AD more accessible to other groups.
W: Compared to other programs, you have quite a large and robust team at UIC. It must have been difficult for the pandemic to hit right in the middle getting your program launched.
T: It really impacted our recruitment as we had called providers from the end of January through early March 2020. There are a lot of things going on right now. Even a small ask, such as 15 minutes of their day, can feel like a big ask for providers.
W: Right, and interventions are very carefully laid out and planned ahead of time. COVID-19 has disrupted everything – especially those on the frontlines who are both detailing and being detailed. Can you tell us a little bit more about how else the impact on your original plans for the intervention?
T: We had been so focused on ramping up that by the time we hit mid-March, we had many people on deck reaching out to providers. We started hearing “No, we can’t do this right now” or “this is a really bad time” often.
Once the stay-at-home order came through, we stopped contacting offices for about 2 months. We had to sort out so many protocols and even our IRB to make amends for virtual visits. What we’ve found since we’ve resumed virtual visits in May is that there’s a lot of variability – some offices have capacity because they aren’t seeing many patients, while others have providers that have been transferred to hospitals and have no idea when they’ll be available. We’re also talking about layoffs and burn-out and low morale.
W: There are many of considerations on how best to proceed safely right now. One is looking at the impact on the critical work you’ve done on opioid safety. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only exacerbated the overdose epidemic. What progress has been made on your opioid initiative?
T: One of the ways our team has shifted has been moving to virtual visits. We knew that these would have its own difficulties, such as concerns about “no-shows”. But our team is relatively tech-savvy, and now my job is making sure they’re all familiar with how to troubleshoot the technological pieces of virtual visits.
There are a lot of tech issues that can interrupt a visit. So we do mock detailing and have the detailers practice with each other, where we introduce certain needs and obstacles, maybe even a tech problem for instance, we role play a provider not turning on the webcam, or not being able to see your screen. Practice to strengthen adaptability and resilience become important in ensuring the detailers are prepared.
W: There’s definitely no time like right now to test detailing skill and ability to think on your feet! As a research coordinator, what do you think you’ve learned in the past few months?
T: How to be flexible! There are all sorts of external pressures right now to keep our project on track, but the most important part is keeping the human aspect in check. Having some insight and empathy for providers is important to understand what they’re going through. We can get bogged down into the guide posts, the bench posts, or the numbers – but this era reminds us that it’s all about empathy.
W: At the end of the day, we want better for our patients, for our communities, and for health outcomes everywhere, right?
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Tara Hensle is a research project coordinator at the University of Illinois – Chicago for a CDC-funded research study investigating the effectiveness of academic detailing for opioid prescribing. She received her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science and Speech Pathology at Purdue University, and has worked in a variety of healthcare research settings before coming to UIC. Since working on this project, she is inspired by academic detailing’s simplicity, versatility, and the variety of topics to which it could be applied.
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