Primary health care (PHC) is the first level of contact that people have with the health care system. Examples of PHC include visiting your family doctor, nurse, pharmacy, health unit, or clinic. Governments and health care providers across Canada are working to strengthen primary health care to improve health care services for Canadians. Here's how PHC is being improved, and how these improvements can improve the quality of care you receive and at the same time contain costs for the health system so services will be there when you need them.
PHC promotes a healthy lifestyle. It also focuses on preventing illness and injuries and managing chronic conditions. It usually costs less to prevent a health problem than to treat it once it has developed, and managing chronic medical conditions can help prevent complications that may have a serious impact on quality of life as well as the overall costs to the health care system. By helping to avoid injuries and illness and managing chronic health problems better, everybody wins.
With PHC, a team of health care professionals (such as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists) will work together to ensure that you get the best possible care. Improved methods of information sharing will help the team get all of the information they need to make decisions about your care right when they need it. The team approach results in better-coordinated care and less duplication of effort. It also saves time for health care professionals.
Another feature of PHC is providing access to the right health care at the right time. Close to 40% of Canadians have visited an emergency department (ER) in the last two years. Most of these visits (57%) were for medical conditions that did not require urgent care (such as sore throats or earaches). Offering access to appropriate primary health care in the community when people need it, including toll-free health advice lines, can take some of the load off of the emergency department. In addition to providing cost-effective care, this may also improve access to ERs for people with urgent medical problems and reduce waiting times.
Changes to primary health care will provide better quality care for Canadians, and help contain health care costs, which can help build a more sustainable health care system for the future. For examples of how innovative new PHC programs can help, read the three patient stories included in this article.
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