The Q Series: What is Primary Care?

February 19, 2016 · Shireesha Jevaji

Q Series: A series of informative blog posts that explain the building blocks of health care quality and emerging trends in health care delivery reform.

Q Series: What is Primary Care?

We’ve all heard “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but how many of us eat an apple every day? And how many of us see our doctor regularly—or even yearly, for primary care?

According to the Institute of Medicine, primary care is:

“The provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community.”

Let’s simplify. The primary care practice is usually our first point of entry into the health care system. For many of us, it begins with our first visit to the pediatrician. During the typical visit, a primary care provider—it could be a family doctor, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant—checks for signs of any underlying health issues or concerns and then treats them.

If you visit a primary care provider because you are sick, they can treat a range of things, from long-term illnesses like diabetes to acute ones like the flu. In some cases, she may refer you to a specialist for more complex issues.

Primary care is not just limited to providing care when you are sick. Your provider can help you concentrate on staying healthy. That includes basic vaccinations to protect you from disease. It could include medication that treats high blood pressure or high cholesterol so they don’t develop into more serious heart disease. It could include basic family planning.

So you see, primary care can be preventive—for people who are healthy and wish to stay that way—and prescriptive, for people who are sick and want to heal. So even if you do eat an apple a day, a visit to your primary care provider may be a better way to take care of your current and future health.

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