The glass window exterior of the Carlson School during the summer.

Nearly $1.6 million grant to study COVID-19 medication treatments during pandemic

Thursday, August 31, 2023

A new, nearly $1.6 million grant is fueling research at the Carlson School of Management to better understand how the rapid flow of information during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted medication treatments for the disease.

A portrait of Professor Pinar Karaca Mandic
Professor Pinar Karaca Mandic

Pinar Karaca Mandic, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and the C. Arthur Williams Jr. Professor in Healthcare Risk Management, is leading the research over the next four years out of the Carlson School’s Business Advancement Center for Health (BACH). Molly Jeffery PhD, Nathan Cummins MD, and Andrew Limper MD, from Mayo Clinic, as well as Caroline Carlin PhD, adjunct faculty at the Carlson School, are collaborating with Karaca Mandic on the project. The work, supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is a continuation of Karaca Mandic and BACH’s mission to improve value and equity in health.

“Physicians and healthcare providers are key agents on what kind of treatments people have access to or not,” explained Karaca Mandic. “We don’t often have a full understanding of what influences their treatment decisions. How do data and evidence drive behavior in a way that impacts patient safety positively? That’s what we hope to determine.”

Through this grant, the researchers aim to gain a better understanding of what influenced the adoption and de-adoption of various COVID-19 treatments. During the pandemic, physicians and healthcare providers had to navigate changing information to treat the fast-spreading disease. As findings from major clinical trials were either in progress or unavailable, they often turned to sources, such as observational studies, pre-prints, or government agency communications, to develop treatment options.

Updates and shifting policies, however, would lead to the adoption and de-adoption of certain prescriptions for COVID-19 treatment. For example, hydroxychloroquine was one of the first potential treatments for COVID-19 based on early research. The drug soon became in short supply, causing issues for those who relied on the drug for other ailments like rheumatoid arthritis. The increased interest even led to some states issuing measures to address hoarding. Months later, additional studies showed the drug did not help with COVID-19 treatment and physicians began phasing out the drug as a treatment option.

“Physicians and healthcare providers need the flexibility to provide the care they think is appropriate, but we want to make sure when good evidence appears that a treatment may be unsafe or ineffective that they’re able to make changes to their prescribing quickly,” said Karaca Mandic.

In addition to hydroxychloroquine, the researchers will be examining the use of chloroquine, azithromycin, some corticosteroids, ivermectin, and more during the pandemic. The researchers will analyze prescription data for Medicare patients along with a multitude of factors, including demographic information, state policies, and hospitalization rates—which Karaca Mandic previously tracked through the award-winning COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project she co-founded.

“By looking at the variations in treatment trends across different regions and patient types, we can start to identify what might be influencing providers,” explained Karaca Mandic. “From there, we can think about the type of outreach and education that could help make safe treatment more equitable for all.”