Primary health care refers to an approach to health and a spectrum of services beyond the traditional health care system. It includes all services that play a part in health, such as income, housing, education, and environment. Primary care is the element within primary health care that focusses on health care services, including health promotion, illness and injury prevention, and the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury.
Various Health Canada activities (as well as programs of other federal departments) address the broad spectrum of services and activities which comprise primary health care. This section of the Health Canada website focusses on the health care delivery sector as it pertains to primary health care. The Health Council of Canada's first report ( Health Care Renewal in Canada: Accelerating Change, January 2005) includes a useful description of the scope of health care services in relation to primary health care.
Primary health care serves a dual function in the health care system:
Responsiveness to community needs is a key element of primary health care. Therefore, the range and configuration of services may vary from one community to another: there is no "one size fits all" model. Similarly, there may be various governance and funding models. Primary health care services often include:
At present, primary care services in Canada are delivered chiefly by family physicians and general medical practitioners who focus on the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury. Further developments seek to build on this foundation.
In recent years, the ways in which primary health care services are organized and delivered have been the focus of much debate (see, for example, the (Romanow Report and Health Council of Canada Report). Concerns include:
Consequently, numerous studies of the health care system have emphasized the importance of primary health care reform.
The key feature of primary health care reform is a shift to teams of providers who are accountable for providing comprehensive services to their clients. There is a growing consensus that family physicians, nurses, and other professionals working as partners will result in better health, improved access to services, more efficient use of resources, and better satisfaction for both patients and providers. Such teams are well positioned to focus on health promotion and improving the management of chronic disease. This team approach, along with telephone advice lines, facilitates access to primary health care services after-hours, reducing the need for costly emergency room visits. Other technologies can support information-sharing among providers so that Canadians need not repeat their health histories or undergo the same tests for every health care professional they see. In these ways, all aspects of personal care are brought together in a coordinated way.
Presently, relatively few Canadians access primary health care services in this way. All provinces and territories are implementing plans for primary health care reform, with funding support from the federal Primary Health Care Transition Fund. Each jurisdiction is undertaking its own approach but some common areas of focus have emerged:
Please contact your provincial or territorial government for further information on its specific plans for primary health care reform.
Effective delivery of primary health care services relies on numerous other resources.These include: