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This theme develops new methods and tools to conduct research in primary care. The programme contributes to the further development of clinical trial methodology for complex interventions.

Clinical trials and epidemiological studies in primary care typically need to involve large numbers of GPs and their staff, up to several hundred at a time, and have led to significant practical difficulties. Particular challenges are:

  • Identifying and inviting potential subjects for trials in a standardised way across many sites
  • Prompting clinicians when eligible patients consult and prior case-finding cannot be used[i]
  • Delivering complex interventions in a standard way across many practice sites
  • Keeping track of subjects as they move address and practice during the trial follow-up[ii]
  • Privacy, confidentiality and ethical approval issues[iii]
  • The high cost of training and monitoring across a large geographical area
  • Even when trials manage to complete, over-runs are common, and there is evidence that variations in recruitment by centre can introduce potential bias[iv]

This programme aims to develop an infrastructure that will be able to be used widely in primary care research in the UK such as the validation of large primary care research databases. It embraces topics such as the use and interpretation of data from routine general practice consultations, novel analyses of trajectories of illness and disease over time, and the synthesis of patient, public and health care professional interview data to address questions of practice and policy.

Whilst the initial focus on eScience solutions to support research will continue, this programme will expand into broader methodological developments, such as routine database mining, better trial development, and better subject recruitment and retention strategies.