Why primary care is the most important lever to improve health outcomes

A patient who has access to and who participates in quality primary care will typically see improved health outcomes. That is the conclusion of several studies that have included research on preventative interventions as well as overall patient outcomes when primary care is used as a lever.

In terms of preventative care and its relation to primary care, one research study found that at least one primary care visit per year resulted in an increase of:

  • 127% for vaccinations
  • 122% for colonoscopy
  • 75% for mammograms.

The study concluded that one or more primary care visit per year is associated with an increased likelihood of these specific evidence-based care interventions that have been proven to improve longitudinal health outcomes as well as decrease healthcare costs. Increasing the effort to track and increase primary care visits could further improve patient compliance with certain preventative measures that will lead to improved patient outcomes.

This particular study found that the relationship between primary care and improved outcomes is apparently stronger in rural areas. The findings also raise the possibility that primary care usage in a population could be a surrogate marker for population health risk. Improvements in outcomes for all patients have caused researchers to predict that over 100,000 deaths each year could be prevented by increasing access to primary care physicians.

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Other benefits point to the reason primary care is the most important lever to improve health outcomes for patients. Visits to a primary care physician can also build trust and a positive, healing relationship between the patient and the provider.

Benefits reflect a complex effect between:

  • Direct illness management
  • The development of trusting relationships
  • Preventative screening.

The resulting effect of these three factors could create a synergistic effect that leads to the well-documented benefits, particularly in terms of improved outcomes, of primary care.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, primary care has become even more critical. Healthcare providers need to be even more resilient against public health crises such as this one and strong primary healthcare is essential as the frontline of all health systems. Primary care is the lever to deliver the first line of care in communities during the acute phase of such a health crisis.

It helps maintain that continuity of care for individuals with chronic conditions as well. And, as shown by research, primary care reduces the pressure on the rest of the healthcare system by providing comprehensive and preventative care throughout the public health crisis.

Rather than simply responding, primary care is proactive, providing regular patient-focused care while building that all-important longitudinal patient-provider relationship. When patients receive the quality care they need from their primary care provider, they are also more likely to become actively involved in their own healthcare. Primary care services are essential in ensuring that patients’ concerns, needs, and fears are heard and that potential issues are managed appropriately at the earliest stage possible.