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Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, VCU Medical Center, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Family Medicine and Population Health Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center

VCU Department of Family Medicine


Mission and history


The Virginia ACORN is a collaborative partnership between primary care practices and a multidisciplinary team of researchers devoted to evaluating and improving the quality of primary health care. Research results are intended to inform and influence decisions along the continuum of service to patients, from research to practice and policy.


ACORN is administered by the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in VCU’s School of Medicine. It was established in 1999 following three years of preparatory work on research methods and study design.

The first site to begin participation in ACORN was the family practice center at Nelson Clinic at the VCU Medical Center, which came online in May 1999. As of 2008, a total of 51 practices have joined, with an eventual goal of 100 practices across the state. Participating practice sites are ambulatory care offices and clinics of family physicians and internists in dispersed geographic areas; pediatricians’ offices will join at a later date.


ACORN tracks important trends and patterns in the health status of primary care patients and performs studies to test whether interventions by patients, providers or health systems are effective in improving the quality or outcomes of care.

Participating practices collect a core data set on a longitudinal basis indefinitely for a period of years that includes:

  • Demographic data.
  • Provider and practice characteristics.
  • Health behaviors, such as smoking and other risk factors.
  • Evidence-based performance indicators, including the tests and treatments that patients receive, such as mammograms and cardiac medications.
  • Disease-specific outcome measures, such as the incidence of breast cancer.
  • Global outcome measures, such as functional status and quality of life.
  • Patient satisfaction.
  • Mortality rates.

The elements of the core data set are collected from patients through self-administered surveys completed in the office, postal surveys and telephone interviews, medical records, billing data, and other sources with the explicit consent of patients and their physicians.

In addition to the core longitudinal data collection, practices in ACORN can participate in research on specific disease-related topics that are of interest to them or to researchers at VCU or other academic sites.