Background

In December 1999, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the Federation of Practice-Based Research Networks (FPBRN) introduced AAFP's new initiative, the National Network for Family Practice and Primary Care Research.

The Network was created to enhance primary care practice research by increasing the nation's pool of family physician researchers and by stimulating funding to achieve this objective. AAFP believes that a stronger link between medical research and the family physician's office will improve patients' health care and health status.

The initiative also included the formal absorption of the Ambulatory Sentinel Practice Network (ASPN), which had conducted practice-based research for two decades during the 1980's and 1990's.

The AAFP mission for its new initiative is to "conduct, support, promote and advocate primary care research in practice-based settings that (1) addresses questions of importance to the discipline of family medicine, and (2) improves the health care delivery to and health status of patients, their families and communities." The AAFP Board gives high priority to office-based research and efforts to expose family physicians to the importance of research and will provide technical support and advocacy.

At the beginning of 2000, there were 16 PBRNs in the U.S. affiliated with FPBRN and four international affiliates. The only one located in the South was a regional network in south Texas. The UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine and its Division of Research established as a priority the preparation of a statewide network in Alabama, ready to participate as AAFP unfolded its program.

A pilot study to investigate the interest of the state's physicians in participating in such an endeavor was supported 1999-2000 by the Alabama Family Practice Rural Health Board (FPRHB). The results of this study formed the rationale for the establishment of a formal network. This organizational effort was supported by funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, awarded to enhance the Department's research capacity (2000-2003).

APBRN held its first formal organizational meeting on December 8, 2000 in Birmingham with 19 present (12 physicians and 7 investigators and staff). A survey was conducted among the physicians to determine their research interests and training needs. Plans for use of PDAs as data collection devices were discussed, along with progress on the network's web site (www.APBRN.net).

Member meetings are held in June and December, in conjunction with the annual meetings of the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians. Between meetings, business is conducted by an email listserve and through the web site.

Initial Press Release (from The SCOPE of Family Practice, January 2000).

Alabama Family Physicians Plan Practice-Based Research Network
The UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine is putting a plan in motion to create a practice-based research network (PBRN) of Alabama family practice physicians. This PBRN will specifically promote the growth and development of clinical investigation in the practices of rural physicians. In December 1999, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the Federation of Practice-Based Research Networks (FPBRN) held a convocation on practice-based research. One goal was to introduce AAFPs new initiative, the National Network for Family Practice and Primary Care Research, which has been created to enhance family practice research by increasing the nationís pool of family physician researchers and by stimulating research funding to achieve this goal. The initiative also included the absorption of the Ambulatory Sentinel Practice Network (ASPN), which has conducted practice-based research for the past two decades. The AFP believes that a stronger link between medical research and the family physicians office will improve the health care and health status of patients, families and communities. The new initiative will also "support, promote and advocate primary care research in practice-based settings that addresses questions of importance to the discipline of family medicine." The action has been taken to give high priority to office-based research and efforts to expose family physicians to the importance of research. At present, there are 16 PBRNs in the U.S. affiliated with FPBRN. Only two are located in the South, both in Texas. FPBRN also has four international affiliates. "Alabama has a sentinel opportunity to develop such a network, as a natural outgrowth of a project being conducted at UAB that is currently funded by the Alabama Family Practice Rural Health Board (FPRHB)," says T. Michael Harrington, MD, UAB department chair and Alabama AFP president. "Activities of a PBRN would support the opportunities for practitioners, academicians, residents and medical students who could work with the onsite research project in preceptors' offices," says Harrington. "Retention and recruitment of physicians, especially into more remote settings, could be enhanced through the opportunities offered by PBRN participation in research studies and the intellectual stimulation that can be achieved through participation in such efforts." The establishment of a PBRN would add to the knowledge base needed to answer questions of critical importance to the daily practices of family physicians and would bring recognition to the state's family physicians in ways not currently open to most of them. "We anticipate bringing this idea before the Alabama AFP membership at the June scientific assembly," say Harrington. "At that time, we will assess the general interest of the membership in the concept. We will also identify the subjects of interest occurring in practice that need to be investigated. UAB would serve as the operational base of the PBRN, maintaining communication among member physicians and providing the research project's technical support. This would include creating and maintaining a web site for the PBRN."

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APBRN Coordinating Center
Department of Family and Community Medicine
Division of Research
University of Alabama at Birmingham
930 20th Street South Room 307
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Phone: 205.934.9376
Fax: 205.934-9398

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