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Transforming Health Research on the High Plains

Ned Norman is a rancher. Maret Felzien is an English professor. And conventional wisdom says neither is likely to help healthcare research become more meaningful to patients and caregivers.

But Norman and Felzien, and their rural community in eastern Colorado, are doing just that through the High Plains Research Network (HPRN), a partnership of rural hospitals, clinics and primary care practices that are improving the care they provide to patients through research and quality improvement programs.

The network is one example of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s (PCORI) vision for research that meaningfully engages members of the community. That’s why PCORI (www.pcori.org) awarded the HPRN a Pilot Project contract in April 2012 to continue its community-based effort through “Boot Camp Translation.”

Led by HPRN Director Dr. Jack Westfall, the project will translate health research and recommendations into language accessible to the diverse communities in Colorado. The ultimate goal is to increase the awareness and use of evidence-based recommendations and improve patient health.

“When research gets translated into local language, community members and patients are more engaged,” Westfall explained. “In eastern Colorado, this means presenting information in a way that incorporates the local rural ranch and farm flavor.”

Westfall, a family physician and native of Yuma, Colo., established the HPRN in 1997. Shortly after, Westfall added a Community Advisory Council, a unique public group charged with serving as local experts to guide the health programs and research HPRN conducts. Now 12 years later, a diverse group of 11 members, including Norman and Felzien, continue to 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.”

The traditional healthcare research model excludes patients and community members not because of poor intentions, but from the lack of proven methods for community engagement. The HPRN is demonstrating a new model that can be adapted and utilized in 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.

That’s PCORI’s vision as well, with the hope that efforts like the HPRN can become proven models for “research done differently.”

PCORI encourages people to visit www.pcori.org/get-involved to see how they can help.

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