The basic objective of research is to acquire new knowledge and justification for decision making in medical practice. Research provides a basis for the acquisition of many skills, particularly those of critical thinking and scientific methodology. The discipline of general practice is special to us with its core content of continuing, comprehensive, community-based primary care, family care, domiciliary care, whole person care and preventive care. To achieve credibility and parity with our specialist colleagues we need to research this area with appropriate methodology and to clearly define the discipline. There is no area of medicine that involves such a diverse range and quantity of decisions each day as general practice, and therefore patient management needs as much evidence-based rigour as possible.
Our own patch, be it an isolated rural practice or an industrial suburban practice, has its own microepidemiological fascination. Thus it provides a unique opportunity to find answers to questions and make observations about that particular community.
There are also personal reasons to undertake research. The process assists professional development, encouraging clear and critical thinking, improvement of knowledge and the satisfaction of developing new skills and opening horizons.
This writer undertook many small studies on common everyday problems during 10 years in country practice to determine the most effective treatments for which no or minimal evidence in the literature could be found. Many of these recommendations for problems such as tennis elbow, cold sores, aphthous ulcers, ingrown toenails, hiccoughs, back pain, nightmares, temporomandibular dysfunction and warts appear in this text. Although the numbers were relatively small it was a useful study to compare treatments for about ten or twenty cases to test hypotheses and allow trends to emerge. The results from a large controlled trial would, of course, take precedence over these recommendations if they differed. However, the exercise, albeit limited, added immense interest to one's practice, which at times can be tedious without such scholarly challenges.
An important reason to undertake research is to conform with quality assurance processes that are now being expected of practitioners. The significant processes evaluating our accountability for quality control include audits of our own records, studies of critical incidents and morbidity studies.
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