As the nation’s top scientists, researchers and policy makers sought to understand Covid-19 over the last two years, many of them turned to a journal where a Goshen College graduate serves as executive publisher.Jane Hiebert-White, who graduated in 1983, soon took a position with Health Affairs, the leading peer-reviewed journal of health policy and research.
In the course of the pandemic, “submissions to the journal exploded,” said Hiebert-White.
Content in Health Affairs increased by nearly 50% increase this past year, and readership grew by about 50% as well. To keep up with the increase in covid content, Health Affairs created what Hiebert-White called a “fast-tracked method for getting the content peer-reviewed and out quickly… with very light copy editing.”
Another pressing issue Health Affairs tackled was the demand for access to online scholarly journals for universities. “When all their professors and students were working remotely, there was a lot of technical work we needed to work through,” Hiebert-White said.
As an established peer-reviewed journal, Health Affairs tackled misinformation right at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, publishing an article on misinformation back in March of 2020.
“Over the years we’ve built a brand for ourselves as a trusted source of information,” Hiebert-White said. That includes ensuring that Health Affairs remains non-partisan.
“On our blog, which is highly read content, commentary and analysis, we do make an effort to make sure we are publishing multiple points of view,” Hiebert-White said.
When important research is published, Hiebert-White as well as others at Health Affairs do their best to alert readers to the new information, especially reporters. Normally, they send out an email blast to relevant health staff on Capitol Hill. They also share the information on Twitter.
“We make a point of really pushing it there because that’s where the journalists are and that’s where the Capitol Hill staff are,” Hiebert-White said. Getting the information quickly to the public became a main focus for Health Affairs, as well as building on their “40-year reputation for being trustworthy.”
An article published in June of 2020, “Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US,” became one of the most cited Covid articles during the pandemic. The article reached more than 32 million Twitter users.
“It became one of the early pieces of research that people would use on Twitter to try to provide evidence… when conversations about face mask mandates became heated,” Hiebert-White said.
In addition, the article was tweeted 13,999 times and cited in 953 news stories. “All of the major networks, the news media, The Washington Post, The New York Times, all covered and cited this study,” Hiebert-White said. “So then that builds on the sense that this is a trustworthy piece of evidence.”
Although Covid-19 may have changed the speed of Health Affairs’ content, it did not change their main goal to “publish high-quality evidence that can be used to make decisions about policy,” Hiebert-White said. “[Covid] just kind of amplified the need to get that quality evidence out there as quickly as possible.”
As Health Affairs published articles about the effects of social distancing, vaccine development and face mask efficacy promptly, “it felt like that’s what we could do to help with Covid… to try to mitigate the spread,” Hiebert-White said, and to “help inform those government leaders that did want to make policy based on the evidence.”
If Hiebert-White has learned anything from Covid-19, it is that systems can change rapidly. “We can move quickly to change things when they are needed and that sense of coming together for a common purpose to make a difference was huge,” Hiebert-White said. “I think that helped mitigate the sense of isolation in working remotely.”
The current hybrid style of working at Health Affairs is something Hiebert-White believes is one aspect of Covid-19 that is here to stay. “We also over this period hired people from all over the country… which we might not have been able to do previously,” said Hiebert-White. “It has really changed the way people think about the workforce.”
Although there are some benefits to this change, Hiebert-White said, “I do miss that face-to-face interaction.” Even though “we have started to tiptoe back into the office…,” she said, “it will never be the same again.”