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Posted: September 17, 2007

UNTHSC forms Primary Care Research Institute


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Imagine a health system designed so that primary care physicians can take what they learn about local health issues from treating patients in their neighborhood clinics and translate that information into solutions for those problems more quickly and easily. What if the results of research done in this manner were not seen only by the physicians, but also by the very people involved in the work – the patients who participated?

  NorTex, the North Texas Primary Care Practice-Based Research Network, allows physicians and health researchers to do their work exactly this way – by recruiting actual clinic patients for studies, then disseminating their research findings in the local community through newsletters, churches and other avenues.

  NorTex will lend its participating clinics and physicians’ knowledge in this area to UT Southwestern by partnering in a pending $60-million, five-year Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). By creating the new Primary Care Research Institute at UNT Health Science Center, NorTex will help revamp the way primary care research is done.

  “We were approached by UT Southwestern and asked to be a partner because of our research network and the need for a practice-based research model as part of the grant,” said Dr. Roberto Cardarelli, founder and director of NorTex and the new Primary Care Research Institute. “This large NIH grant will create an incredible infrastructure for all types of research and community resources and revolutionize the way we do primary care research in North Texas.”

  He said NorTex, through the formation of the Primary Care Research Institute, will continue to conduct clinic-based health research that affects primary care and public health, but it will now expand its ability to conduct this research throughout all of North Texas through a new partnership with Parkland Community-Oriented Primary Care clinics.

  “Physicians in the Primary Care Research Institute will collaborate to conduct research in primary care and public health, including HIV/AIDS and preventive care research,” Dr. Cardarelli said. “This allows us to do research in partnership with the community, not just gathering information from members of the community without sharing what we’ve learned with them.”

  The goal of the CTSA award is to transform how basic, clinical and translational research is conducted to bring effective strategies and new treatments more quickly to health care workers and their patients. As a community engagement partner, NorTex will recruit research participants from the community and increase public trust in local research.

  Primary care research helps lower hospital rates and health care costs.  Most primary care is delivered in the outpatient setting, and it has the potential for the greatest impact on the public’s health. During primary care visits, physicians can diagnose and treat health problems before they become chronic or turn into emergent situations.

Primary care research also decreases health disparities – inequalities in the health status, access to health care and health risk factors among the racial and ethnic minorities and the general population – and NorTex is one of the few practice-based research networks in the nation that focuses its research on health disparities.

“We have to understand disease processes and factors that impact the progression of disease in a population – in a primary care outpatient setting – in order to know how we can prevent, diagnose, and treat that population to the best of our abilities while taking into account their cultural beliefs and values,” Dr. Cardarelli said.

  NorTex also conducts research in pediatrics, family medicine, epidemiology, health management and policy, and social and behavioral sciences as part of a new partnership with Cook Children’s Physician Network. Its research focuses on primary care and public health issues in Tarrant County.

  “NorTex is now growing into the Dallas region so it can fulfill its role for the CTSA,” Dr. Cardarelli said. “That is, to collaborate with primary care and public health partners so we can do research with whom it affects the most – the clinicians and the communities.” 

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