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How should I go about doing general practice research?

Questions from GPs in the early stages of their career

First ask yourself six questions.

 · Why am I doing this? Is your subject a good one for your particular general practice, or would it be better suited to a different practice, a hospital or academic environment?

 · Are you re-inventing the wheel? You'd be surprised how many times doctors have unwittingly performed duplicate research on exactly the same subject. Do a search of the literature first: Medline will help.

 · Do I (and the practice) have the time and funding for this? General practice is stretched enough without adding extra work, so will your partners back you? Can you get funding for additional pairs of hands (doctors or nurses) to cover the time you will be devoting to research? It takes time to do research properly.

 · Can I get ethical approval (if indeed it is needed for your particular project)? You need to approach your local ethical committee for advice ­ see for a list.

 · Have I got expertise in statistics (or can I get hold of it)? This is absolutely necessary.

 · Can I get funding? This can be acquired from an immense number of sources, including pharmaceutical companies, charities serving the needs of patients with a particular disease, the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Health, Scottish health boards and the Primary Care Research Fund. See for a list of suitable funding sources.

Research needs to be meticulously prepared and performed to be valid. There are two equal and opposite points here:

­ badly analysed data isn't worth the paper it's written on.

­ no amount of statistical analysis, however esoteric, will get decent answers out of incomplete or inappropriate data.

Even with something as apparently innocuous as a questionnaire you can end up with invalid conclusions if you don't plan it from a statistical point of view.

Finally, write your paper carefully. Obviously, the arguments have to be logical and complete, and properly supported by the statistics: but your paper will attract more interest if it's well-written and easy to read ­ which usually means using short words rather than long ones.

Contact your local postgraduate centre for more information. In addition the Medical Research Council GP Research Framework's site at has a large number of useful links to research-related bodies and institutions.

How can I go about doing research in primary care?

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