The role of research in pediatric medicine is foundational to improving all aspects of pediatric healthcare, from the creation of vital vaccines to population-level patient care outcomes. Besides the obvious benefits for pediatric medicine, could pediatric research’s benefits extend to independent practices? Some practices find participation in research to be of secondary interest to their work in patient care, while others join research projects to meet their practice’s needs. In this article, we’ll cover how independent practices can engage with pediatric research, the state of current research in the U.S. – and why research with the involvement of independent practices matters.
Important Names in Pediatric Research
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conducts research through several avenues, including the Pediatric Research in Office Settings (PROS), founded in 1986, through surveys completed by practicing pediatricians, and by collecting health trends through data for public use. Pediatricians can find published research from the AAP in the journal Pediatrics and through Pediatrics Open Science, an open-access journal scheduled for publication in early 2023.
While the participation in or study of research is readily accessible via the AAP to AAP members, other collaborations and research opportunities exist. Of note are Pediatric Research, a publication of the American Pediatric Society, published since 1967, and state-sponsored studies through either the Department of Health or universities.
Universities across the country have pediatric research departments which publish research findings, usually via a coordinating or university-owned hospital. Universities include big names like Yale School of Medicine and hospitals based in major cities, like Seattle Children’s or Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Benefits of Pediatric Research to Independent Pediatricians
“We try to pick and choose [projects that] help patients and help us financially as a business.” Tommie Angel, Office Manager at Sanford Pediatrics
Whether your practice is close to a city or is placed in a more suburban or rural area, research studies can have surprisingly far-reaching benefits. Pediatric practices who elect to participate in research studies can be eligible for incentive payments, can receive newer or higher quality equipment than budgets might allow, and best of all, offer real-time improvements for office workflows and patient care.
Tommie Angel, office manager of Sanford Pediatrics in the North Carolina city of the same name, says her practice participates in a number of quality improvement (QI) projects that offer both unique learning and material opportunities for them, while offering research opportunities for entities like the AAP.
In Sanford Pediatrics’ case, the physicians and Tommie have elected to participate in several projects offered by the AAP’s Chapter Quality Network, the Community Care of North Carolina, the state’s Medicaid program and through the Community Care Physician Network, a “clinically-integrated network (CIN) of independent primary care physicians dedicated to improving quality, proving value to payers and patients, and keeping doctors and clinicians in control of the care their patients receive.”
Projects Sanford Pediatrics has completed have proved worthy accomplishments: a prior project focused on improving adolescent immunization rates. “That particular program was looking at immunization rates and how to improve them,” Tommie explains, “Like a work group. Each month, a practice had to present a plan that they had planned on or implemented on how they had improved immunization rates.” More information on this project can be found in Sanford Pediatrics’ PCC Success Story.
Tommie ponders the meaning of “pediatric research” while discussing the projects her practice has participated in. Some, like the adolescent immunization rate project, were more QI projects, and others have research benefits, such as the “First to the Future” project Sanford Pediatrics is currently working on, which focuses on increasing the direct contact between patients and their pediatric medical home. “You’re studying and researching your own practice,” she says.
Some projects offer entities like the AAP and Community Care Physician Network of North Carolina to gather important data on pediatric care in specific locales, while practices benefit from both the research data and from incentive payments – a win/win for independent practices.
Getting Started in Pediatric Research
A study in Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics has explored the challenges of persuading parents and caregivers to enroll their children in more traditional pediatric research studies. Parents’ concerns are often understandable: they worry about the potential challenges and benefits their child might experience in the study.
One benefit to participating in research or quality improvement projects is that independent pediatricians can bank on the trust built over long periods of relationships with patients and caregivers. An added convenience for families is that because practices participate in the study, they need not change doctors, location, or in some cases, need to know about the study at all to feel its effects, such as in the case of adolescent immunizations.
How can you get started in supporting pediatric research at your practice? To begin with, practices could take a leaf from Tommie Angel’s book: “We try to pick and choose [projects that] help patients and help us financially as a business.”
Before starting any projects, Sanford Pediatrics weighs their workforce capacity, potential benefits to patients, and the practice’s budget and time restraints. For example, they recently turned down a project centered on autism, not because they felt it wouldn’t help patients, but because the project required too much time commitment from physicians during patient care hours.
Research doesn’t only belong in universities and lab departments. Independent practices who can contribute to data-gathering, quality improvements, and research projects have a huge role to play in the future of pediatric medicine. Ready to get started? We suggest signing up for newsletters to your state’s Medicaid organization or AAP Chapter, which can offer easy access to new research or project opportunities. Practices can also sign up for ongoing projects sponsored by the AAP and other organizations.