Network Focuses on Research From Family Physician Offices

AAFP NRN Seeks to Increase Size, Scope of Membership

January 11, 2012 05:00 pm "Voices" Staff

Research is something many, if not most, family physicians leave behind after completing their residency. But for some, the opportunity to participate in practice-based research is a reward unto itself.

The AAFP provides just such an opportunity via its AAFP National Research Network (AAFP NRN), whose mission is to support, conduct and disseminate practice-based primary care research that improves health care and benefits the health of patients, their families and communities.

The Academy created the AAFP NRN in 1999 to fill a void in primary care research left after the Ambulatory Sentinel Practice Network, which had conducted more than two decades of practice-based research, ceased operations.

Statistics on the AAFP NRN

In the more than 12 years it has existed, the AAFP NRN has grown into an organization that boasts 2,200 clinician members in 600 offices in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and four Canadian provinces.

Since its inception, the AAFP NRN has conducted 55 studies and published 59 articles, providing primary care physicians with evidence-based research to help improve the health of their patients and communities.

Last year alone, the network published 12 articles, including reports on motivational interviewing (Members/Subscribers Only) and medical home transformation( (abstract), as well as three pieces about collaborative care that resulted from a research development conference funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Two other articles also have been accepted for publication. In addition, the AAFP NRN has 18 studies currently in progress and several others in the planning stages.

The AAFP NRN has two sub-networks:

  • the Collaborative Care Research Network, which investigates and evaluates the integration of mental health services in primary care settings, and
  • the Electronic National Quality Improvement and Research Network, which is a network of electronic health records from 150 clinics nationwide and part of the Distributed Ambulatory Research in Therapeutics Network Institute, a rapidly growing collaboration of practice-based research networks that are working to build a national collection of electronic health record data, claims data and patient-reported outcomes data.

All of this research -- which covers an exhaustive list of topics from asthma to sleep disorders -- is funded through grants from external sponsors. As of the end of 2011, the AAFP NRN had secured more than $17 million in funding from external sources, including federal agencies, such as the CDC; industry; private foundations; and other entities. Several new grant applications are pending.

What You Can Do

You can play a vital role in the AAFP NRN. Involving more practices, physicians and patients in the network's research projects will lead to improved and more diverse data, as well as new research opportunities. The bigger the sample size, the more questions researchers can answer. The wider the selection of practices the network can choose from, the more powerful its research will be.

In short, joining the AAFP NRN allows you to participate in research that benefits the specialty of family medicine while improving the quality of care you provide.

According to the AHRQ's Practice-Based Research Network Resource Center, more than 11,300 family medicine physicians are members of practice-based research networks, including the AAFP NRN. That's an impressive number, but it's still a small percentage of the nation's active family docs.

Although some of you may feel you don't have time to participate in research, your practices still may be able to contribute to this important work. Many of the AAFP NRN's studies have benefited from the involvement of nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other medical professionals who work with AAFP members and other primary care physicians.

The level of involvement of physicians and their staff members in the AAFP NRN's research is up to network members. They can pick and choose the projects in which they participate. The types of studies the network conducts include surveys, randomized controlled trials, qualitative evaluations, electronic data pulls and practice improvement projects.

Practices also benefit from modest stipends paid for participating in each study, and you may get an opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn in a collaborative setting.

The bottom line is that the work of AAFP NRN enables family physicians to better care for patients, and who wouldn't want to be part of that experience?