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OCT 8-12, 2012

Primary Care: The Issue

What is primary care?

Primary care means frontline care, and it can come from doctors (family physicians, internists, or pediatricians), physician assistants, or nurse practitioners. Primary care clinicians are the quarterbacks of patient care. They make sure that their patients and their issues don’t fall through the cracks of our increasingly confusing health care system. Primary care clinicians care for their patients across the spectrum of their care, including:

  • being the first point of contact for undiagnosed health problems
  • comprehensive, whole-person care
  • building longitudinal relationships and treating chronic problems
  • coordinating across other health services

(Source: Vanderbilt Department of Medicine)

Why is primary care so important?

It’s simple: Primary care clinicians ensure that patients get the right care, in the right setting, by the most appropriate practitioner, and in a manner consistent with the patient’s desires and values. Data on our health care system increasingly show that areas with higher concentrations of primary care clinicians have lower cost, higher quality health care. But we don’t need data to confirm what each of us know already: the incredible value of being cared for by someone who knows us well and understands both our health issues and our personal values. Key stakeholders – employers, legislators, and patients – are increasingly recognizing the value of primary care.

What is the primary care crisis?

For some time, demand for primary care services has been rising just as the supply of available clinicians shrinks and fewer trainees choose to enter the field. What’s more, many practices are still using antiquated systems of care delivery. Patients are having a hard time seeing their regular clinicians or finding new ones. When they do secure a visit, it is often rushed, leaving patients feeling dissatisfied. As a result, quality of care is suffering: large surveys of physicians’ practices show that for some medical conditions, up to 50% of patients are not receiving recommended evidence-based care. Fortunately, individuals and organizations across the country are engaged in exciting efforts to overcome these challenges. Primary Care Progress is working to help these primary care pioneers connect with each other, and with you!