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AHRQ expands its primary care research agenda

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently received more than $50 million in funding targeted toward research on patient safety, clinical informatics, and health care working conditions. These new funds have paved the way for AHRQ's Center for Primary Care Research (CPCR) to add several initiatives to its research agenda—patient safety in office-based primary care settings and the effect of information technology (IT) on primary care practice.

CPCR has the lead within AHRQ for clinical informatics, and an upcoming grant solicitation will support research on the use of IT to improve patient care, notes CPCR Director Helen Burstin, M.D., M.P.H. Future projects are expected to include evaluation of innovative IT applications—such as decision support systems and hand-held electronic prescription systems—that can be used to improve safety and quality of care.

According to Dr. Burstin and her coauthor AHRQ researcher David Lanier, M.D., the Center also will support research to examine the barriers to acceptance and adoption of IT by providers and patients, as well as effective strategies to maintain data confidentiality. The Center is particularly interested in informatics applications that emphasize outpatient settings and priority populations. The goal is to find out how IT can be used to improve access, quality, and outcomes for primary care patients.

AHRQ's CPCR also will fund projects to assess the relationship between health care working conditions and the safety and quality of health care. Recently, AHRQ awarded planning grants to 19 primary care practice-based research networks (PBRNs), a program administered by CPCR. These networks are groups of practices devoted to patient care that have affiliated with each other to investigate questions related to community-based practice. As a group, the PBRNs involve more than 5,000 primary care practice settings and almost 7 million patients across the United States, including racially diverse rural and urban residents and underserved populations. In recognition of the need for greater emphasis on patient safety in outpatient settings, funds will be set aside for the PBRNs to conduct research on medical errors and patient safety reporting, as well as the impact of working conditions on the quality of care delivered by primary care providers.

For more information, see "Update from funders: Center for Primary Care Research and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality," by Drs. Burstin and Lanier, in Medical Care 39(4), pp. 309-311, 2001.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 01-R052) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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