Guidelines for TMS/tES clinical services and research through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abstract Background The COVID-19 pandemic has broadly disrupted biomedical treatment and research including non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS). Moreover, the rapid onset of societal disruption and evolving regulatory restrictions may not have allowed for systematic planning of how clinical and research work may continue throughout the pandemic or be restarted as restrictions are abated. The urgency to provide and develop NIBS as an intervention for diverse neurological and mental health indications, and as a catalyst of fundamental brain research, is not dampened by the parallel efforts to address the most life-threatening aspects of COVID-19; rather in many cases the need for NIBS is heightened including the potential to mitigate mental health consequences related to COVID-19. Objective To facilitate the re-establishment of access to NIBS clinical services and research operations during the current COVID-19 pandemic and possible future outbreaks, we develop and discuss a framework for balancing the importance of NIBS operations with safety considerations, while addressing the needs of all stakeholders. We focus on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and low intensity transcranial Electrical Stimulation (tES) - including transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS). Methods The present consensus paper provides guidelines and good practices for managing and reopening NIBS clinics and laboratories through the immediate and ongoing stages of COVID-19. The document reflects the analysis of experts with domain relevant expertise spanning NIBS technology, clinical services, and basic and clinical research – with an international perspective. We outline regulatory aspects, human resources, NIBS optimization, as well as accommodations for specific demographics. Results A model based on three phases (early COVID-19 impact, current practices, and future preparation) with an 11-step checklist (spanning removing or streamlining in-person protocols, incorporating telemedicine, and addressing COVID-19-associated adverse events) is proposed. Recommendations on implementing social distancing and sterilization of NIBS related equipment, specific considerations of COVID-19 positive populations including mental health comorbidities, as well as considerations regarding regulatory and human resource in the era of COVID-19 are outlined. We discuss COVID-19 considerations specifically for clinical (sub-)populations including pediatric, stroke, addiction, and the elderly. Numerous case-examples across the world are described. Conclusion There is an evident, and in cases urgent, need to maintain NIBS operations through the COVID-19 pandemic, including anticipating future pandemic waves and addressing effects of COVID-19 on brain and mind. The proposed robust and structured strategy aims to address the current and anticipated future challenges while maintaining scientific rigor and managing risk.