Primary care is the term for the health services by providers who act as the principal point of consultation forpatients within a health care system. Such a professional can be a primary care physician, such as a general practitioner or family physician, or depending on the locality, health system organization, and patient’s discretion, they may see a pharmacist, a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, a nurse (such as in the United Kingdom), aclinical officer (such as in parts of Africa), or an Ayurvedic or other traditional medicine professional (such as in parts of Asia). Depending on the nature of the health condition, patients may then be referred for secondary or tertiary care.
The World Health Organization attributes the provision of essential primary care as an integral component of an inclusive primary health care strategy. Primary care involves the widest scope of health care, including all ages of patients, patients of all socioeconomic and geographic origins, patients seeking to maintain optimal health, and patients with all manner of acute and chronic physical, mental and social health issues, including multiple chronic diseases. Consequently, a primary care practitioner must possess a wide breadth of knowledge in many areas.Continuity is a key characteristic of primary care, as patients usually prefer to consult the same practitioner for routine check-ups and preventive care, health education, and every time they require an initial consultation about a new health problem. Collaboration among providers is a desirable characteristic of primary care.
The International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC) is a standardized tool for understanding and analyzing information on interventions in primary care by the reason for the patient visit. Common chronic illnesses usually treated in primary care may include, for example: hypertension, angina, diabetes, asthma, COPD, depression andanxiety, back pain, arthritis or thyroid dysfunction. Primary care also includes many basic maternal and child health care services, such as family planning services and vaccinations.
In context of global population ageing, with increasing numbers of older adults at greater risk of chonic non-communicable diseases, rapidly increasing demand for primary care services is expected around the world, in both developed and developing countries.