Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine Sixth Annual Practice-based Research Network Theme Issue –They Just Keep Getting Better and Better

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We have quite a rich issue this month related to practice-based research networks (PBRNs)—reflections on where they have been, where they should go, how they should happen; lessons learned about recruiting physicians and patients and new research methods; and several clinical studies from existing PBRNs. We had an amazing number of manuscripts submitted this year for the PBRN issue; as a result, this is a powerful issue. Some are under revision for future issues of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, just as we have some articles from PBRNs appearing in most issues. PBRNs have deepened the family medicine research tradition. The importance of primary care research to build the evidence base of our clinical practice, plus the useful work building the methods of primary care research, distinguishes the pioneers in PBRNs. PBRNs are Health Improvement Networks and national treasures to be nurtured.

The issue starts with the idea, proposed by Williams and Rhyne et al,1 that the practice-based research networks (PBRNs) have matured and evolved and now really should be thought of as Health Improvement Networks (HITs). This is an idea whose time has come. It is also clearly substantiated by another article from Williams et al2 that shows practice improvement after participation in PBRN studies and can also be seen in other papers in this issue including those by Daly et al3 and Parnes et al.4 This improvement has strong face validity in that the process of doing the research and thinking about the topic should help physicians incorporate their research experiences into evidenced-based practice for the benefit of their patients.

The PBRNs have been advanced through the careful nurturing of the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ). David Meyers, a former student of mine (MAB), writes a tribute to Dr. David Lanier, a former faculty colleague of mine (MAB), who pushed the idea of the need for PBRNs at AHRQ. We are truly blessed with such wonderful colleagues. We also appreciate the fact that AHRQ has hosted PBRN national conferences and provided substantial funding both for infrastructure and for the ensuing studies. Nevertheless, improvement is still possible. Pace et al5 critique the current partnership between AHRQ and primary care researchers with propositions for what could further enhance the future of the field.