“In the U.S. and other parts of the world seeing a sustained drop in COVID-19 infection and mortality rates and an increase in vaccination rates, many aspects of the practice of medicine that were put on hold or slowed by the need to focus on the pandemic are once again returning to normal, albeit perhaps in altered forms. For clinical care, this means patients returning to in-person visits, and perhaps a broader use of telemedicine or a hybrid approach to accommodate patient preferences.
Explore This IssueJuly 2021
For medical research, it means heading back to the laboratories to continue basic research projects and resuming clinical research paused by limitations imposed by COVID-19 on, for example, enrolling patients in clinical trials. Here too, lessons learned during the pandemic may mean altering the traditional methods of enrolling patients, conducting trials, and publishing results.
Like other specialties, otolaryngology is facing a transition from months of dealing with COVID-19 at center stage to seeing the virus move toward a less prominent spot in the wings. During the initial months of the pandemic, over a year ago, research quickly transitioned to focusing on the pressing needs of COVID-19 and remained in high gear throughout the waves of infection. More recently, largely due to the arrival of vaccinations, the focus is again returning to research unrelated to COVID-19.
How did COVID-19 affect the field of otolaryngology in particular? As an NIH-funded principal investigator, clinical researcher, and editor-in-chief of the International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology (IFAR), Timothy Smith, MD, MPH, believes he has a pretty good finger on the pulse of research in otolaryngology and categorizes the research in 2020 during the height of COVID-19 as a “boom” and this new year in 2021 as a “lull.”
“I call it the COVID lull because I can see researchers who lost their ability to collect primary data during 2020 scrambling now in 2021 to find sources of secondary data,” said Dr. Smith, who is also a professor and vice chair, department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore. He said he saw many more systematic reviews and meta-analyses published during the past year using secondary data from computer-generated large databases.
No one argues that COVID-19 was a boon for research—on all things COVID-19. But what happened to research unrelated to COVID-19, and what can be expected moving forward? Views among otolaryngologists differ, painting a more nuanced portrait of the future research landscape within otolaryngology.