A national survey of primary care practice-based research networks

Ann Fam Med. 2007 May-Jun;5(3):242-50. doi: 10.1370/afm.699.


Purpose: Increasing numbers of primary care practice-based research networks (PBRNs) are being developed in the United States to perform research relevant to everyday practice. To assess the current status and potential value of this resource, we surveyed US primary care PBRNs in operation from late 2003 to early 2004.

Methods: We performed a Web-based survey and structured interviews with PBRN directors and administrative officers, assessing PBRNs' history, size, location, organization, resources, operations, and productivity (funding obtained, studies performed, and articles published).

Results: Of 111 primary care PBRNs identified, 89 (80%) responded to the survey. The 86 (77%) meeting the criteria for primary care PBRNs contained 1,871 practices, 12,957 physicians (mean 152 per PBRN, median 100), and 14.7 million patients (mean 229,880 per PBRN, median 105,000). Minority and underinsured patients were overrepresented. The average PBRN was young (4.4 +/- 5.7 years): one-half had performed 3 or fewer studies. Three-quarters were affiliated with universities. Common research foci included prevention, diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, and mental health. Respondent PBRNs had published more than 600 articles in peer-reviewed journals. PBRNs studying questions posed by outside researchers had more federal funding (84% vs 27%, P=.006). PBRNs citing funding as a weakness relied more on local resources to fund research projects (70% vs 40%, P=.036).

Conclusions: American primary care PBRNs are mainly young, diverse, and pursuing a variety of research foci. Most have university links and provide a dynamic town-gown relationship that could be a vital national resource for improving primary care, translating research into practice, and meeting the National Institutes of Health Roadmap goals. PBRNs merit further attention from both private and public funding agencies and researchers interested in studying the delivery of primary care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Community Networks / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Health Services Research / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interinstitutional Relations
  • Male
  • Medicine*
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Specialization*
  • United States