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Primary care practice-based research networks are a young diverse group vital to translating research into practice

American primary care practice-based research networks (PBRNs) are comprised of predominantly young practices that serve a large group of poor and minority patients. Three-fourths of the practices are affiliated with universities and half have only performed three or fewer clinical studies on their patients, according to a national 2003 survey of PBRNs.

These PBRNs could be a vital national resource for improving primary care and translating research into practice. However, this potential resource will need to be cultivated for it to mature into a potent tool to link research to practice improvement and to speed dissemination of research findings to community practice settings.

David Lanier, M.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and colleagues analyzed survey responses of 86 primary care PBRNs (including 46 AHRQ-funded PBRNs). The PBRNs included 1,871 practices, 12,957 physicians (mean of 152 per PBRN), and 14.7 million patients (mean of 229,880 per PBRN). The PBRNs commonly focused their research on prevention, diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, and mental health. These practices had published more than 600 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

PBRNs studying clinical questions posed by outside researchers had more Federal funding than those studying questions posed by internal researchers (84 vs. 27 percent). PBRNs that cited funding as a weakness relied more on local resources to fund research projects (70 vs. 40 percent). Difficulty securing funding was by far the most commonly listed weakness, selected by one half of the PBRNs that responded to the survey.

PBRNs also expressed frustration over the difficulty of maintaining research infrastructure (space, personnel, and equipment) between funded studies. PBRNs merit further attention from private and public funding agencies and researchers interested in studying the delivery of primary care, conclude the researchers.

More details are in "A national survey of primary care practice-based research networks," by William M. Tierney, M.D., Caitlin C. Oppenheimer, M.P.H., Brenda L. Hudson, M.A., and others, in the May 2007 Annals of Family Medicine 5(3), pp. 242-250. Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 07-R068) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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