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North Carolina researchers call for a diverse group of essential workers in health care to join to share experiences and evaluate prevention strategies. The UNC site leader for this effort is Ross Boyce, MD.

From clinicians to first responders, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, and food service workers, a wide range of North Carolina’s healthcare workers have enrolled in a new online research community to share the perspectives and problems faced by those on the COVID-19 pandemic front lines and to help find solutions.

The Healthcare Worker Exposure Response & Outcomes (HERO) Registry unites a diverse group of essential workers across North Carolina and around the country in an online community to facilitate rapid-cycle research, including an ongoing randomized clinical trial to investigate if hydroxychloroquine (brand name Plaquenil®) can protect healthy, at-risk workers from COVID-19. The UNC-Chapel Hill site leader is Ross Boyce, MD, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the UNC School of Medicine.

“Despite all the recent news about hydroxychloroquine, the HERO-HCQ study will answer important and still unresolved questions about the potential role of the drug as prophylaxis against COVID-19,” said Ross Boyce, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and HERO site leader at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we have robust evidence from randomized, placebo-controlled trials like the HERO-HCQ study. So frequently, we are the ones asking our patients to participate in clinical trials. Now all of us (healthcare workers) have a chance to contribute as well.”

The HERO community has welcomed more than 13,000 members, including more than a thousand healthcare workers from North Carolina. Healthcare workers from all settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency services are invited to participate. University health systems from across the state are leading efforts to share information about the program, including Duke University Health System, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest Baptist Health.

“We may be competitors on the courts and fields, but our healthcare heroes at the beside and behind the scenes are coming together to share experiences and generate evidence about the impact of novel coronavirus on healthcare workers’ lives, including threats like stress and burnout,” said Adrian Hernandez, MD, MHS, principal investigator of the HERO research program, which is led by the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), part of the Duke University School of Medicine.

Duke men’s basketball coach Michael “Coach K” Krzyzewski has rallied behind the effort in a video that encourages healthcare workers to join the research program.

Members are offered opportunities to identify research priorities, share concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) availability, burnout, stress, and family experiences, and to participate in research studies to prevent COVID-19, such as the HERO-HCQ Trial or future planned vaccine trials.

“Inclusive representation in HERO research across our state’s healthcare systems means we’re asking all people who serve in all types of healthcare settings to join,” said Bridget Thomas, project manager for the HERO-HCQ Trial at Wake Forest. “We’re seeking healthcare workers from all environments—including hospitals, outpatient and urgent care clinics, nursing homes, and in-home nursing care—to join the HERO community. This way, we can better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts their physical and mental health, determine research priorities, and offer evidence-based solutions.”

The HERO Registry is funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and conducted by research sites in PCORnet®, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network. For more information or to join, visit There is no cost to join and it takes only a few minutes to sign up.