Background: Delivery system research to identify how best to organize, finance, and implement health improvement strategies has focused heavily on clinical practice settings, with relatively little attention paid to public health settings—where research is made more difficult by wide heterogeneity in settings and limited sources of existing data and measures. This study examines the approaches used by public health practice-based research networks (PBRNs) to expand delivery system research and evidence-based practice in public health settings.
Methods: Practice-based research networks employ quasi-experimental research designs, natural experiments, and mixed-method analytic techniques to evaluate how community partnerships, economic shocks, and policy changes impact delivery processes in public health settings. In addition, network analysis methods are used to assess patterns of interaction between practitioners and researchers within PBRNs to produce and apply research findings.
Results: Findings from individual PBRN studies elucidate the roles of information exchange, community resources, and leadership and decision-making structures in shaping implementation outcomes in public health delivery. Network analysis of PBRNs reveals broad engagement of both practitioners and researchers in scientific inquiry, with practitioners in the periphery of these networks reporting particularly large benefits from research participation.
Conclusions: Public health PBRNs provide effective mechanisms for implementing delivery system research and engaging practitioners in the process. These networks also hold promise for accelerating the translation and application of research findings into public health settings.
This study examines the approaches used by public health practice-based research networks (PBRNs) to expand delivery system research and evidence-based practice in public health settings. Although some networks have already made progress in translating PBRN research findings into policy and delivery system changes, many additional opportunities exist for PBRNs to move research into meaningful public health action.
Department of Health Services Management, College of Public Health, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Correspondence: Glen P. Mays, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Services Management, College of Public Health, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40536 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (grant no. 64676). Dr Mays was also supported through a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health (award 1UL1RR029884).
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.