PBRNs are groups of primary care clinicians and practices working together to answer community-based health care questions and translate research findings into practice.

PBRNs engage clinicians in quality improvement activities and an evidence-based culture in primary care practice to improve the health of all Americans.

Practice-based Research

Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRNs) are groups of primary care clinicians and practices working together to answer community-based health care questions and translate research findings into practice.

PBRNs engage clinicians in quality improvement activities and an evidence-based culture in primary care practice to improve the health of all Americans.

PBRNs have been described as "new clinical laboratories for primary care research and dissemination."1 A PBRN is a group of 15 to several hundred primary care practices devoted principally to the care of patients. These practices are united by a shared commitment to expand the science base of clinical care through systematic inquiry to better understand the health and health care events that unfold daily in their community practice settings. Often affiliated with academic or professional organizations, these practices investigate questions of importance to clinical practice. Typically, PBRNs draw on the experience and insight of practicing clinicians to identify and frame research questions whose answers can improve the practice of primary care. By linking these questions with rigorous research methods, PBRNs produce research findings that are immediately relevant to the primary care clinician and more easily translated into everyday practice.

Increasingly, PBRNs are recognizing their potential to expand their purpose, and are supporting quality improvement activities within primary care practices and the adoption of an evidence-based culture in primary care practice. Many PBRN leaders have begun to envision their networks as places of learning, where clinicians are engaged in reflective practice inquiries, and where clinicians, their patients, and academic researchers collaborate in the search for answers that lead to the improved delivery of primary care.

Examples of types of PBRN research include studies in comparative effectiveness research:

  • Treatment of common diseases and symptoms, prevention, and early diagnosis
  • Organization and clinical systems
  • Continuity and coordination of care
  • Clinical decision support
  • Impact of decisions made by patients about health care and health practices for themselves, their families, and their communities

PBRNs are uniquely positioned for dissemination and implementation research.

PBRNs provide a natural laboratory for a wide variety of physician and patient studies and are a rich source of medical data. PBRNs may be the best setting for studying the process of care and the manner in which diseases are diagnosed, treatments initiated, and chronic conditions managed in a "real world" setting. PBRNs provide a resource where effectiveness can be measured2 and where the interface between patients and their community primary care physicians can be explored.3 *


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The North Carolina Network Consortium (NCNC) is a diverse statewide consortium of providers, academic institutions, and patients whose mission is to address pressing questions related to the delivery of primary care health services and the management of primary care problems.

Five practice-based research networks have combined resources in forming the NCNC; they represent over 2,100 providers in over 350 practices across the state, including all three primary care specialties (family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics) and strong representation of minority populations.

To learn more about NCNC, visit ncnc.unc.edu.

If you are interested in conducting research in healthcare and practice-based settings, consider the following guidelines and request a consultation with NCNC:


* Source: ahrq.gov
1. Westfall JM, Mold JW, Fagnan LJ. Practice-based research-"Blue Highways" on the NIH roadmap. JAMA 297: 403-6. 2007.
2. Bell LM, Grundmeier R, Localio R, Zorc J, Fiks AG, Zhang X, Stephens TB, Swietlik M, Guevara JP. Electronic health record-based decision support to improve asthma care: a cluster-randomized trial. Pediatrics 2010;125: e770-e777.
3. Parchman ML, Zeber JE, Palmer RF. Participatory decision-making, patient activation, medication adherence and intermediate clinical outcomes: a STARNet study. Ann Fam Med 2010;8:410-17.

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