Practice-based research networks (PBRNs) are organizations that involve practicing clinicians in asking and answering clinically relevant research questions. This review explores the origins, characteristics, funding, and lessons learned through practice-based research in the United States. Primary care PBRNs emerged in the USA in the 1970s. Early studies explored the etiology of common problems encountered in primary care practices (eg, headache, miscarriage), demonstrating the gap between research conducted in controlled specialty settings and real-world practices. Over time, national initiatives and an evolving funding climate have shaped PBRN development, contributing to larger networks, a push for shared electronic health records, and the use of a broad range of research methodologies (eg, observational studies, pragmatic randomized controlled trials, continuous quality improvement, participatory methods). Today, there are over 160 active networks registered with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's PBRN Resource Center that engage primary care clinicians, pharmacists, dentists, and other health care professionals in research and quality-improvement initiatives. PBRNs provide an important laboratory for encouraging collaborative research partnerships between academicians and practices or communities to improve population health, conduct comparative effectiveness and patient-centered outcomes research, and study health policy reform. PBRNs continue to face critical challenges that include: (1) adapting to a changing landscape; (2) recruiting and retaining membership; (3) securing infrastructure support; (4) straddling two worlds (academia and community) and managing expectations; and (5) preparing for workforce transitions.
Keywords: participatory research; population health; review; translational research.