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AHRQ's research networks link researchers with practitioners to ensure findings are responsive to user needs

Over the past 2 years, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality created an Integrated Delivery System Research Network (IDSRN) and awarded new planning and infrastructure grants for Primary Care Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRNs). These initiatives share three features: strong links between researchers and clinicians and others who deliver care or manage health care organizations; collaboration across research projects; and creation of a sustained infrastructure for research.

The IDSRN and PBRNs represent one of AHRQ's best vehicles to see that research findings are used to improve practice and policy, notes Irene Fraser, Ph.D., Director of AHRQ's Center for Organization and Delivery Studies, in a recent commentary with fellow AHRQ researchers David Lanier, M.D., and Fred Hellinger, Ph.D., as well as the late John M. Eisenberg, M.D., AHRQ's former Director.

The IDSRN consists of nine consortia, which together provide care to over 50 million Americans and serve diverse delivery systems and populations, such as group or staff model HMOs, network plans, and fee-for-service providers across the country. Most consortium projects to date use health plan data, with a large number focusing on quality of care, patient safety, and health care disparities. They typically are short turn-around projects of 12 to 18 months, which allows AHRQ to quickly generate answers to priority policy questions. For example, one project is examining the relationship of provider group characteristics to quality of care and medication errors in ambulatory care settings.

A PBRN is a collaborative network of office-based practices that is capable of rapidly identifying clinically relevant questions in primary care practices and producing rigorous research. For example, one PBRN recently focused on optimal methods of managing laboratory test results in practice, with most participating practices immediately adopting what soon became apparent as the superior method. About half of the existing PBRNs are regional or local in scope, two are national, and most others are Statewide or multi-State.

See "Putting practice into research," by Drs. Fraser, Lanier, Hellinger, and Eisenberg, in the February 2002 Health Services Research 37(1), pp. xiii-xxvi.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 02-R055) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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