In agriculture, a county extension agent serves as a two-way communication link between farmers in the field and researchers in the lab.
It is an excellent analogy for the proposed Group Practice Research Network, according to Cynthia Palmer of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Under a 20-month, $300,000 AHRQ contract, the Medical Group Management Association, the University of Minnesota and Georgetown University plan to create the network of about 1,000 medical groups.
The contract was announced late Monday at the annual MGMA trade show in Philadelphia, where recruiting of volunteer medical group practices began.
"Our mission is to really have an impact on practices and policies in the real world," says Palmer, a research scientist and program officer for the Integrated Delivery System Research Network, the umbrella program under which the Group Practice Research Network will be created.
"It will provide us with a two-way street" to both gather information from the groups and to send back to them the results of analysis by AHRQ and other researchers, Palmer says.
David Gans, director of practice management resources for MGMA, says the first goal under the contract is to merge the database files of his own 19,000-member organization with that of the AMA, VHA and private data vendors to come up with a definitive list of group practices in the United States.
From that list, Gans says, the contract consortium plans to create the GPRN, which will be a sample of groups of three physicians or larger representative of all U.S. groups by size, geography and medical specialty. The research could address both clinical and business issues.
"Initially, we will focus on the business and the operational side, but I'm particularly interested in how that interfaces with the clinical side," says Terry Hammons, M.D., a clinical pathologist who is serving as MGMA's principal researcher on the project. Hammons is the senior vice president for research and information at MGMA.
Some examples of potential GPRN research projects include: physician manpower needs, charity care studies, patient safety monitoring, effective information management methods and follow-up methods for abnormal diagnostic test results.
Other areas of possible research are best practices for patient flow, Medicare participation rates, HMO contracting methods, staff and physician incentive programs, medical malpractice insurance monitoring and adoption and implementation of an EMR.
The MGMA has committed to keeping the network alive after the AHRQ grant expires, Gans says. But it will not be the exclusive province of MGMA or government researchers, he says.
"We hope the network will be used by some of the noted research organizations in the country," Gans says.
He said the GPRN is not being set up as a revenue or profit-generating center for MGMA, but as an organization with a core mission to provide data for its members.