The Impact of COVID-19 on the Research Process: Consent, Use of Technology, and Data Collection

Natalie Cayon, BA

Boston Children’s Hospital – Research Assistant

Scientific Abstract

Background: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions were placed on research laboratories for in-person contacts, significantly hampering study progress. Here, we report on our laboratory’s efforts to convert typically in-person processes to remote to enable study continuation.

Methods: Study participants are members of the Boston Children’s Hospital cohort of the nationwide Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Study. We developed multiple remote methods for conducting the consenting process and biospecimen data collection. Remote consenting methods included use of phone and Zoom interviews as well as an e-consenting platform. We developed remote procedures to allow participant self-collection and return of biospecimens, including shed teeth, hair, and toenails, and to assess activity levels via accelerometer biosensors. We collected survey data via REDCap email links or phone/Zoom interviews.

Results: Between March 18, 2020 and January 20, 2022, we completed 172 informed consents and 156 informed assents remotely, compared to 16 and 27, respectively, in person, and collected 166 remote biospecimen kits. The return rate for requested biospecimens was 76.2% for teeth (n=21), 77.7% for hair (n=94), 78.9% for toenails (n=98), and 84.6% for accelerometers (n=26). The median time of kit return was 15 days.

Conclusions: Allowing participants to consent and assent remotely has proven beneficial to study recruitment during COVID-19-related in-person restrictions. Moreover, these procedures will be useful going forward, as they reduce the time participants are in the lab, thus, increasing efficiency. In addition, collecting biospecimens remotely lowers COVID-19 transmission risk. Offering both in-person and remote activities also helps reduce participant burn-out and provides them a variety of options for study engagement. This flexibility is especially helpful for families with limited availability for in-person visits due to scheduling or location. Consequently, these modifications will be permanent additions within our laboratory regardless of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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research Areas


Natalie Cayon, BA, Sarah Dickerman, BA, Emma Jenkins, BA, Juliana Mendonca, BS, Anne Elizabeth Sidamon-Eristoff, BA, Michelle Bosquet Enlow, PhD

Principal Investigator

Michelle Bosquet Enlow, PhD

Affiliated Website