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What is primary health care? Why is it important?

12 November 2015

Primary health care (PHC) is the frontline of the health care system. Delivered in a variety of settings, by multiple types of providers (including GPs, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and other allied health professionals), PHC provides community-based, multidisciplinary, patient-centred care with a focus on both the treatment and prevention of various conditions. It provides the essential first point of contact in our efforts to keep people well and improve their quality of life. PHC is accessed by the vast majority of Australians at least once a year.

A strong, accessible PHC system reduces pressure on hospitals by supporting people to manage their health issues in the community. It is the cornerstone underpinning population health outcomes and key to ensuring we have a high-quality sustainable health system into the future.

Yet, despite its critical importance, PHC is not always clearly understood by those working outside the system. Certainly it is a complex mosaic, characterised as much by its funding diversity (a mix of private and publicly-funded services) and workforce distribution as its multi-faceted delivery.

The video clip, What is primary health care? offers some insights. The clip is structured around the concept of the Partnership Pentagon (Boelen, 2000) to show the diversity of stakeholders in PHC: communities/consumers; policy makers, health managers, health professionals and researchers. It asks big questions. What does PHC mean for consumers? What is the role of policy and research? How do primary health networks contribute to improving PHC?

The clip provides an overview of the organisations, and people, who seek to contribute to improving health care outcomes through the avenues of policy, consumer advocacy, management, practice and research including: Professor Michael Kidd AM, President of the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) and Executive Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University; Ms Deb Lee, Chief Executive Officer, Adelaide Primary Health Network (PHN); Professor Ngaire Kerse, Head, School of Population Health, University of Auckland and General Practitioner; Ms Anne McKenzie AM, Consumer Advocate/Manager; Mr Mark Booth, First Assistant Secretary, Health Systems Policy Division Australian Government Department of Health; and Professor Tom Brett, Director, General Practice and Primary Health Care Research Unit, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle and General Practitioner. Our continuing challenge is to weave a productive culture of interaction and connection across all these stakeholders. PHC can only benefit from greater understanding (and capacity) in the art/science of knowledge exchange to promote the timely sharing of relevant information, contextual knowledge and research evidence to inform policy and practice.

Boelen C. (2000). Towards Unity for Health: challenges and opportunities for partnership in health development. A working paper (p. 55). Geneva: World Health Organization. [PDF: 1.4Mb]


This news item was featured in This Week in PHC Issue: 12 November 2015.

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