Local Community Members Help Shape New Model for Healthcare Research

You may not expect a Colorado rancher or an English professor to help improve health care research on their own. But the High Plains Research Network (HPRN) sought just that—the collaboration of ordinary community members to make health research more meaningful to the spectrum of diverse patients. In their rural community in eastern Colorado, Ned Norman is a rancher, and Maret Felzien teaches English.

But for HPRN—a partnership of rural hospitals, clinics and primary care practices—Norman and Felzien offer a unique local perspective that’s often missing in typical health research models. With their help, the HPRN improves patient care through better research and quality improvement programs.

The High Plains network is one example of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s (PCORI) vision for research that effectively engages the whole community. PCORI (www.pcori.org) showed support for the partnership by awarding the HPRN a Pilot Project contract in April 2012 to continue its community-based efforts.

HPRN Director Dr. Jack Westfall is head of the project, which intends to translate health research and recommendations into language accessible to Colorado’s varying communities. Ultimately, the project will spread the awareness and use of evidence-based recommendations to improve patient health.

According to Westfall, a family physician and native of Yuma, Colo., when research gets translated into the local language, community members and patients become more engaged. He explains, “In eastern Colorado, this means presenting information in a way that incorporates the local rural ranch and farm flavor.”

Westfall established the HPRN in 1997 and added a Community Advisory Council not long after. The council was a unique group that served as local experts to guide health programs and research HPRN conducts. Fast-forward 12 years, and a diverse group of 11 members, including Norman and Felzien, now serve on the council.

“We speak for the community,” Felzien said. “And when you pair our energy and our knowledge with research, the health of our community can be improved.”

Traditionally, the common healthcare research model excludes patients and community members. That’s not a result of poor intentions, it’s a dearth of successful methods that promote community engagement. The HPRN is proving that a new model can be effective and that it can be adapted for communities nationwide.

“My vision for our research endeavor is to build a community of solutions … patients, community members, providers, researchers, all working together to ask and answer questions important to the community,” Westfall said.

PCORI shares the same vision, with the hope that Westfall’s progress with the HPRN can become an established model for “research done differently.” PCORI encourages you to follow Norman’s and Felzien’s example. Visit www.pcori.org/get-involved to see how you can improve the health of your community.

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