Guide to conducting primary care research

Dr Mehul Mathukia considers the importance of undertaking research.

There is a need for more GP practices to engage in research (Photo: SPL)
There is a need for more GP practices to engage in research (Photo: SPL)

Although patients have traditionally been recruited for research in secondary care, more studies are now being conducted in primary care, so there is a need for more GP practices to become research-active sites.

The National Institute for Health Research has set a target for 35% of all practices to be registered as research-capable, and for 5% of practices in each CCG to be registered.

Our practice, with 5,500 patients, became research-active three years ago. It quickly became evident that it was easy to participate, mainly because of the advantages that research brought for patients, staff and the practice, but also because of the wealth of data we collect every day, and the existing infrastructures in our practice.

Types of research

The types of study can vary significantly and are broadly classified into four levels.

Level 1 studies usually involve a database search for patients who fit specific criteria, followed by production of a list screened by a clinical member of staff, and a mail-out to eligible patients inviting them to participate.

Level 2 studies are slightly more involved, in that a member of staff conducts the suitability screening and obtains patient consent at the practice.

Level 3 studies are usually level 1, plus a staff member trained to deliver a specific intervention, undertake baseline screening, obtain patient consent, and deliver the intervention and baseline and follow-up data.

Level 4 studies are similar to level 3, but the intervention usually involves a member of the clinical team administering a medicinal product, and recording baseline and follow-up data on behalf of the study team.

The level of involvement is reflected in the support costs available. The key is to involve the entire team.

  • Dr Mathukia is a GP principal in Ilford, Essex
Research tips
  • Step 1 Locate your nearest primary care research network, which will be the link between you and the study team.
  • Step 2 If nearby practices are research-active, use them as mentors.
  • Step 3 Attend a Good Clinical Practice course. This teaches you how to conduct robust research in your practice.
  • Step 4 Establish strong clinical and managerial leadership within your practice and ensure the whole team is involved.
  • Step 5 Meet the study team, discuss the project and decide if it can be delivered in your practice.
  • Step 6 Select studies with clinical relevance for your specific population.
  • Step 7 Find out what resources and support are available.
  • Step 8 Start small and build up. Select studies that are easy to conduct.
  • Step 9 Be organised and keep records of all of the data gathered. This must be stored safely for a set time - find out how long.

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