Recruiting Primary Care Practices for Research: Reflections and Reminders

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Background:Recruiting primary care practices for research projects has always required carefully tended relationships, a compelling message, and good timing. Recruiting practices to participate in practice transformation research trials may take more and different efforts. We reflect on practice recruitment for a recently-concluded trial of a diabetes self-management support system in 2 states and 36 practices.Methods:Iterative qualitative analysis of field notes, semistructured clinician and staff interviews, and meeting notes from a 2-state, cluster-randomized trial that aimed to improve self-management support for patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.Results:Although all 36 enrolled practices finished the study, fully recruiting practices early on took considerable effort, yielding 2 primary lessons: 1) practice-based research networks (PBRNs) must recruit more stakeholders at more levels, at the clinic, in the system, and across roles; and 2) practice recruitment is a process and may take longer than expected with unplanned turnover of key contacts. Adjusting our recruitment strategies required: helping with communication efforts in practices; aligning our study message according to stakeholders' interests; allowing for minor adaptations at the practice-level to align with critical practice workflows, staffing, and resources; re-engaging with clinical leadership over time; and identifying a “backup” champion due to turnover.Conclusions:When undertaking a pragmatic clinical trial requiring substantial practice change in a PBRN setting across a large number of practices, it is important that PBRN leaders develop a comprehensive strategy to identify and engage a broad group of stakeholders within each practice, understand their needs and priorities around research, and design and implement a structured communications strategy to maintain engagement throughout every phase of the project.

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