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Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

AHRQ Support for Primary Care Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRNs)

Fact Sheet

Primary care practice-based research networks (PBRNs) involve practicing clinicians in asking and answering clinical and organizational questions central to primary health care. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) developed its PBRN initiative in recognition of this work and its ability to improve the health of all Americans, and the potential of these networks to engage clinicians in quality improvement activities.

Go to the PBRN Web site.

Introduction | Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) | More Information


Primary care practice-based research networks (PBRNs)—some of which have existed in the United States for more than twenty years—involve community-based clinicians and their staffs in activities designed to understand and improve primary care. The best of PBRN efforts link relevant clinical questions with rigorous research methods in community settings to produce scientific information that is externally valid, and, in theory, assimilated more easily into everyday practice.

Increasingly, PBRNs are recognizing their potential to expand their purpose, and are supporting quality improvement activities within primary care practices and the adoption of an evidence-based culture in primary care practice. Many PBRN leaders have begun to envision their networks as places of learning, where clinicians are engaged in reflective practice inquiries, and where clinicians, their patients, and academic researchers collaborate in the search for answers that lead to the improved delivery of primary care.

AHRQ recognizes that primary care is a vital component of an effective and efficient health care system. Research needs to focus on the questions being encountered by primary care clinicians in their practices, it should be conducted in primary care practices with members of the diverse communities served by these practices, and the results must be shared quickly with the practice community. AHRQ developed its primary care PBRN initiative to support the growth of individual networks and the field as a whole, in an effort to accomplish these goals.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a PBRN?

AHRQ defines a primary care practice-based research network, or PBRN, as a group of ambulatory practices devoted principally to the primary care of patients, and affiliated in their mission to investigate questions related to community-based practice and to improve the quality of primary care. This definition includes a sense of ongoing commitment to network activities and an organizational structure that transcends a single research project. PBRNs often link practicing clinicians with investigators experienced in clinical and health services research, while at the same time enhancing the research skills of the network members.

Why does AHRQ support PBRNs?

As part of the December, 1999 legislation (Public Law 106-129) reauthorizing and renaming the Agency, AHRQ was directed to employ research strategies and mechanisms that link research directly with clinical practice in geographically diverse locations throughout the country, including the use of "provider-based research networks… especially (in) primary care."

To better address issues of disparities in health care quality, outcomes, cost, and access for various segments of the U.S. population, amended section 901(b)(2) authorized the Agency to implement research strategies and mechanisms that specifically include PBRNs.

How has AHRQ supported PBRNs?

Between 2000 and 2005, AHRQ funded 4 major competitive grant programs for PBRNs. In addition to funding opportunities, AHRQ is supporting PBRNs through a national resource center, an annual national conference, peer learning groups, an electronic PBRN research repository, and a dedicated community extranet.

In 2000, the U.S. had approximately 24 primary care PBRNs. AHRQ has since provided direct funding for more than 50 PBRNs through targeted grant programs, and has provided technical and networking assistance for many more. In 2004, AHRQ research identified more than 110 primary care PBRNs operating across the U.S.

What is the history of AHRQ funding for PBRNs?

What additional support has AHRQ given to PBRNs?

  • Annual PBRN Meeting—AHRQ hosts a three-day conference dedicated to advancing PBRN research through presentations, workshops, and networking. For more information, visit
  • PBRN Resource Center—A collaborative venture of the University of Minnesota and Westat, AHRQ's national PBRN Resource Center provides technical support to primary care PBRNs. Assistance is available in PBRN research methodology (research design, analytic strategies, and organizational development), health information technology, and network organization and maintenance. Contact the Resource Center at
  • Peer Learning Groups—PBRN researchers, directors, and staff participate in ongoing group discussions dedicated to advancing PBRN operations, quality improvement research, health information technology, and PBRN research methodologies.
  • Electronic Repository of PBRN Research—An extensive, AHRQ-maintained database of research produced by primary care PBRNs.
  • PBRN Extranet—A secure, AHRQ-provided Web presence where the PBRN community can share documents, collaborate on projects, and communicate ideas within and beyond their individual networks.

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For More Information

For more information on AHRQ's Primary Care PBRN initiative, contact:

Natalie Alter
Center for Primary Care, Prevention, and Clinical Partnerships (CP3)
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Phone: (301) 427-1569

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AHRQ Publication No. 01-P020
Current as of May 2006

Internet Citation:

AHRQ Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRNs). Fact Sheet, June 2001 (revised May 2006). AHRQ Publication No. 01-P020. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


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