Real-world research with real-world applications

The pressing demands of COVID have prevented some GPs from contributing to the New England GP Research Network (NEGPRN) in recent years but Tamworth Dr Miriam Grotowski believes there are many advantages to them taking part in future research.

A Senior Lecturer in Medicine with the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health, Dr Grotowski is also a member of the NEGPRN’s implementation working group, which helps to shape the network’s research agenda. Her Tamworth Smith Street Practice has itself developed small research projects and she is eager to contribute more to the NEGPRN’s work in 2023.

“The idea of the network is great because it brings equally interested and engaged clinicians together with people with expertise to conduct real-world research with translatable outcomes,” Dr Grotowski said. “I often sit in general practice land with ideas about research and data, but GPs need help to nut out what’s feasible and what’s not, and the encouragement to actually do the research, most of which would likely be in our own time.”

At Smith Street, GPs, practice managers and nurses, as well as visiting medical students, are encouraged to embrace research projects. The practice is currently taking part in the Healthy Rural Hearts project, which is supported by the NEGPRN, having previously carried out its own mini cardiovascular survey of male farmers.

“We identified through the COVID pandemic that many farmers hadn’t been in for ages and that their health parameters were not as good as they had been in the past,” Dr Grotowski said. “We invited them to come in for health checks and have been charting their progress. We have also been doing a longitudinal study of osteoporosis identification and treatment.”

For students, especially, the benefits of seeing research conducted in general practice in a regional setting can be enduring.

“I think student doctors should be a particular focus because the research opportunities elevate general practice to the same level as other sub-specialties they’re seeing,” Dr Grotowski said. “Some students are very surprised that general practice and general practitioners and patients can participate in research. Seeing the benefits for real is invaluable for them as they plan their careers.”

While a GP’s time and resources can constrain their research efforts, Dr Grotowski believes they are in the box seat.

“I see some of the conclusions reached by research groups outside general practice and really wonder how they landed there,” she said. “By taking part in the NEGPRN, GPs can help to ensure that research projects are relevant to practices and their communities. We know that people of different genders, cultures and countries of origin have different risk factors and can present differently. There is an appetite for research in general practice, which is potpourri of society.”

NEGPRN Chair, Associate Professor Michelle Guppy, said an implementation working group comprising academics and GPs like Miriam, practice nurses and managers, allied health practitioners and community representatives from throughout the New England North West ensures the network remains responsive.

“Our working group advises us on research interests and priorities in general practice, and the major issues within general practice that might inform those research priorities,” she said. “People like Miriam, who has been providing GP services to her community for more than 25 years, are perfectly positioned to help find solutions to the pressing challenges we face.”

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