Primary Care

Primary care is health care that is accessible, comprehensive, coordinated, and continuing. It is provided by physicians specifically trained for and skilled in comprehensive first-contact and continuing care for ill persons or those with an undiag-nosed sign, symptom, or health concern (i.e., the "undiffer-entiated" patient) and is not limited by problem origin (i.e., biologic, behavioral, or social), organ system, or gender.

In addition to diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, primary care includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, and patient education in a variety of health care settings (e.g., office, inpatient, critical care, long-term care, home care). Primary care is performed and managed by a personal physician, using other health professionals for consultation or referral as appropriate.

Primary care is the backbone of the health care system and encompasses the following functions:

1. It is first-contact care, serving as a point of entry for the patient into the health care system.

2. It includes continuity by virtue of caring for patients in sickness and in health over some period.

3. It is comprehensive care, drawing from all the traditional major disciplines for its functional content.

4. It serves a coordinative function for all the health care needs of the patient.

5. It assumes continuing responsibility for individual patient follow-up and community health problems.

6. It is a highly personalized type of care.

In a 2008 report, Primary Health Care—Now More than Ever, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that primary care is the best way of coping with the illnesses of the 21st century, and that better use of existing preventive measures could reduce the global burden of disease by as much as 70%. Rather than drifting from one short-term priority to another, countries should make prevention equally important as cure and focus on the rise in chronic diseases that require long-term care and strong community support. Furthermore, at the 62nd World Health Assembly in 2009, WHO strongly reaffirmed the values and principles of primary health care as the basis for strengthening health care systems worldwide.

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