Introduction: To strengthen and demonstrate the ability of rural pharmacists to address their communities’ health needs, we developed the first multi-state rural community pharmacy practice-based research network (PBRN) in the USA called the Rural Research Alliance of Community Pharmacies (RURAL-CP). Our objective is to describe the process for developing RURAL-CP and discuss challenges to creating a PBRN during the pandemic.
Methods: We conducted a literature review of community pharmacy PBRNs and met with expert consultants to gain insight into PBRN best practices. We obtained funding to hire a postdoctoral research associate, conducted site visits, and administered a baseline survey, which assessed many aspects of the pharmacy, including staffing, services, and organizational climate. Pharmacy site visits were initially conducted in-person but were later adapted to a virtual format due to the pandemic.
Results: RURAL-CP is now a PBRN registered with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within the USA. Currently, 95 pharmacies across five southeastern states are enrolled. Conducting site visits was critical for developing rapport, demonstrating our commitment to engage with pharmacy staff, and appreciating the needs of each pharmacy. RURAL-CP pharmacists’ main research priority was expanding reimbursable pharmacy services, especially for diabetes patients. Since enrollment, network pharmacists have participated in two COVID-19 surveys.
Discussion: RURAL-CP has been instrumental in identifying rural pharmacists’ research priorities. COVID-19 provided an early test of the network infrastructure, which allowed us to quickly assess COVID-19 training and resource needs. We are refining policies and infrastructure to support future implementation research with network pharmacies.