Picture of Patricia McWalterPatricia McWalter (pictured) MD, MRCPI, FRCGP, Abdullah AlKhenizan MD, CCFP, FCFP, ABHPM, MSc, DCEpid and Aneela Hussain MD, DABFM, FAAFM are physicians in the Department of Family Medicine and Polyclinics, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


We are a very diverse group of primary care physicians, serving a very diverse population of patients, in a leading medical and academic institute in Saudi Arabia. Our physicians have trained all over the world and have brought not only their clinical skills, but also their academic and teaching skills to the department. Our family medicine population is nearly 30,000 patients. We have exposure to much pathology, both common and rare. We have a catchment community based population with records for up to 40 years, which doesn’t exist in the region, as well as computerised medical records being used for 14 years, giving us the opportunity to access and research data from our population

Our institute has its own Research Advisory Council (RAC) to promote, regulate and monitor all aspects of research activities. All research proposals must be approved by the Clinical Research Committee and the Research Ethics Committee within RAC. We have therefore worked hard over the last couple of years to embark on primary care research activities, which has been both rewarding and demanding.

The positive aspects of primary care research in our department are many. Our research team, including our doctors and research coordinators, work together, alongside our specialist colleagues and dedicated researchers from the research center, to create research projects, which are of relevance to our patients. Some of the projects we have been working on, in our department, include creating a chronic disease registry (CDR), folic acid use in our pregnant patients, significance of hypovitaminoisis D among the Saudi population, attitudes towards HPV vaccination in primary care, experience of treating vaginismus in a Saudi population, verifying insulin strategy and initial health outcome analysis, and preventive healthcare among elderly women. Research enhances our education and knowledge and improves the quality of care we deliver to our patients. Some of our doctors have done research with other institutes in the country and further afield and this collaborative approach has strengthened our department’s commitment to research. We also have an option to apply for grants which are funded by a few local independent scientific organisations e.g. KACST (King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology). As we embark on a family medicine residency training programme, we believe our research endeavors will grow. The experience gained from doing research can pave the way for those interested in a more academic career.

We do, of course, face some challenges and difficulties, in our pursuit to advance our research activities. Time constraints will always be a major challenge. Our clinics are always very busy, with little time to engage in research during the working week. Therefore many doctors will use their own time to engage in research, which can impact negatively on one’s personal life. We all know the financial gains are limited. We may also face reluctance from our patients to get involved-this is usually related to a lack of education and awareness about the importance of research in developing primary care further. We also need to develop a more computerized approach to data entry, which is extremely important for successful research.

Despite the challenges and difficulties, I believe research in our department and in primary care as a whole will continue and with better IT systems in the future, grow and expand. There will always be clinicians and health care professionals who have a burning desire to answer questions that only research can address. But in order to facilitate this, we must work as a team, in a highly supportive environment and reward those who put time and energy into a pursuit which is enormously beneficial to the development of primary care.

This blog is part of a series on global primary care research that CMAJBlogs is publishing in the lead-up to the NAPCRG Annual Meeting 2014Meeting advertisement poster. The North American Primary Care Research Group Annual Meeting is being held from November 21-25, 2014 in New Your City, NY