A solid and well-equipped primary care foundation is of key importance to developing a better healthcare system. In health systems and communities across the world, utilization of primary care is shown to lead to better overall health outcomes, reduce inappropriate utilization, promote a focus on preventative care and reduce hospital readmission.
Evidence also shows that a strong emphasis on primary care can reduce disparities in health across population subgroups. A higher primary care physician to population ratio has been associated with better overall community health and lower mortality rates from: heart disease, cancer, stroke, low birth weight, poor self-reported health and lifestyle factors. These impacts on health outcomes are most prominent in areas with high levels of income inequality. Studies suggest that as many as 127,617 deaths per year in the United States can be averted by an increase in primary care physicians.
In order for primary care to have the greatest impact, it is important to focus on more than just presence and volume. It is critical for primary care organizations, providers and initiatives to fully embrace 4 key aspects of primary care: (1) serving as the first point of contact to access care for each new need; (2) providing long term patient-focused care; (3) provide comprehensive care for most health needs; and (4) provide coordinated care when it must be sought elsewhere. By focusing on these aspects, primary care can be positioned to have the greatest possible impact in communities and our health system as a whole.
The following are 4 benefits of a strong primary care foundation in our healthcare system:
Primary care increases access to health services for under-served population groups. Many of these groups have the high mortality rates for medical conditions that can be properly addressed if detected early on. Many under-served communities are also among the highest users of emergency department services for non-emergency conditions.
The impact of primary care on prevention and early detection of serious medical conditions is strikingly high. US States with a higher ratio of primary care physicians to populations have lower smoking rates, less obesity and earlier detection of cancers than states with fewer primary care physicians.
Primary care makes an impact on managing health problems before they become serious enough to require hospitalization or emergency services. Numerous studies show that patients with known medical conditions who utilize primary care providers are less likely to have their condition escalate to the point of requiring hospitalization.
Primary care contributes to more appropriate utilization of medical services, specialists and technology. A good relationship between primary care physicians and their patients through patient-focused care is statistically associated with less use of specialty and emergency services. This is in part due to the developing and having access to an extensive patient history combined with the role of primary care as a first point of contact for services.