A front liner in PPE suit

Williamson Medical workers to participate in COVID-19 drug trial

National health care registry to help prepare for future medical crisis

The COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. has left nearly every American scrambling for a plan.  

A national study and smaller sub-study involving Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Williamson Medical Center are in preliminary stages to not only inform decisions relevant to the current pandemic but to help the government and health care sector better prepare for any similar crisis in the future. 

The Healthcare Worker Exposure Response & Outcomes (HERO) Registry launched last week with already more than 5,000 registrants, and the smaller HERO-HCQ Trial will begin on Monday with hundreds of local health care workers. 

According to Aaron Milstone, a doctor at Williamson Medical Center, the HERO Registry will include at least 250,000 health care workers from across the country and will study lifestyle and workplace patterns like stress, burnout, coping mechanisms and sleep patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m calling on my fellow Williamson County health care workers to share their perspectives so that we can understand and provide answers to the problems they face in real time — and over time,” Milstone said. 

Milstone explained the HERO Registry can include any health care worker on the frontlines, so not only doctors and nurses, but also translators, maintenance workers and more.  

In addition to collecting raw data, these studies will also collect stories from health care workers about what it’s like to work in the medical field during this time. 

“You’ll get a really broad sense of what it’s like to take care of the patients but also to be other health care workers in that situation,” Milstone said. “It’d be interesting to hear from what speech therapists have had to deal with or what maintenance people have had to deal with or security people. We really are just beginning to understand how (greatly) the pandemic has affected the medical system here in this country.” 

While the main study and sub-studies will certainly inform the current situation, Milstone said they can also help the country better prepare for future medical crisis. 

“This has really taught us that we weren’t very well prepared, that if there is another pandemic, we have to do better in terms of our national stockpile of protective gear. That’s No. 1,” he said. “If there’s another pandemic on the horizon, we need to do better funding of vaccine research so that we’re not waiting 12 to 16 months for a vaccine to arrive in the U.S.” 

Williamson Medical and Vanderbilt will also participate alongside 38 other medical centers in the country in the smaller HERO-HCQ Trial, which will include about 15,000 healthy medical workers — a minimum of 375 from Williamson County. It will test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, also known by the brand name Plaquenil, in preventing COVID-19. 

After President Donald Trump said hydroxychloroquine, in combination with azithromycin, has the chance to be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” the drug, typically used to treat lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, gained a lot of traction in the media, followed by some warnings pertaining to side effects. However, Milstone assured Plaquenil will not be combined with azithromycin due to the potentiality to cause heart rhythm issues, and that the drug alone is “very safe.” 

“Some of the negative press you’ve seen about hydroxychloroquine is when it’s combined with other medicines for treating patients with COVID or a lot of those patients with COVID have heart issues related to the COVID, and so the drug is not good in that population,” he said. “Here, we’re looking at healthy health care workers, frontline workers, and the drug is very safe in that population.” 

Milstone said results from the eight-week drug trial will begin to roll out in six to 12 months, but some of the stories collected from health care workers will be released intermittently throughout the process. He said he hopes that having an established registry will allow for quicker communication and collaboration in the medical community in similar situations in the future. 

“There will be new viral infections and new bacterial infections, and hopefully, by having a registry in place in the future, we’ll be able to share information quicker and be more responsive,” he said. “Imagine, instead of trying to catch up to the pandemic, we want to be ahead of the next pandemic, and having a registry like this puts health care ahead of the problem instead of behind the problem.” 

For more information, visit heroesresearch.org or contact [email protected]. Those wishing to participate in the HERO-HCQ trial must be a health care worker 18 or older and must not take any medication that could react with the Plaquenil. Sign up for the trial at ctcmidtn.com/herotrial.

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