Researchers To Study Inner Workings Of Primary Care Practice

September 21, 1998

Family practice researchers at Case Western Reserve University and three other institutions have been awarded a four-year, $900,000 grant from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) to study the inner workings of primary care practice.

The grant is part of a new $7.72 million AAFP research initiative to provide a new level of scientific evidence about family- and patient-centered medical care.

The grant will be used to establish the Center for the Value of Family Practice, a consortium comprised of researchers at CWRU's School of Medicine, the University of Nebraska, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The center, to be based in Cleveland, will study the doctor-patient relationship and the process of patient care in real-world family practices and their local communities. Those findings will be evaluated to determine their effect on patient health and used to develop innovative ways to improve the quality of primary care.

Until now, there has been only a limited amount of research into the patient-centered medical approach that characterizes family practice, according to Kurt Stange, director of the new center.

"Medical research tends to look at narrowly defined aspects of specific diseases and, while this is important, it is not enough," said Stange, an associate professor of family medicine at CWRU's School of Medicine. "We need new scientific knowledge about the kind of health care that affects the majority of Americans on a daily basis."

The results of research into the structure and processes of family practice will ultimately affect millions of Americans, according to Joseph Scherger, chair of the AAFP's Research Initiative Task Force. Scherger announced the grant awards at a September 8 press conference in Washington, D.C.

"Patients make 186 million office visits to family doctors each year. That's 84 million more visits than to physicians in any other specialty," said Scherger. "We want to deliver the best care we can, using state-of-the-art medical knowledge with state-of-the-art application."

Because the center's work represents a new kind of research -- research that occurs in the exam room rather than the laboratory -- it will utilize new research methods. This will include directly observing the interaction between doctors and patients. In 1995, researchers associated with the center became the first to use direct observation in a large-scale study.

The center is one of only three organizations which AAFP selected for funding from among 65 applicants nationwide.

Case Western Reserve University

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