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Learn more about the history of primary care

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The family physician has existed in various forms in the US for centuries. In the earliest days, the doctor may not have had formal medical training but did treat everything and everyone, usually in their own homes. Today, family medicine is considered to be a category of primary care, a term that was originally coined in the UK.

World War I created a heavy healthcare and financial burden on Europe. In 1920, Sir Bertrand Dawson prepared the Dawson Report for Britain’s Council on Medical and Administrative Services, in which he “recommended the creation of a general medical service and set forth the notion of primary care.” The term “primary” was used to distinguish the healthcare service from secondary facilities such as health centers and hospitals.

In the US, the idea of primary care did not take hold until the 1960s. Two major reports published during this period helped to define both the need for and the definition of primary care. One report was produced by the American Medical Association’s Ad Hoc Committee on Education for Family Practice. The report was known as the Millis Report as the committee was chaired by John Millis, then the president of Case Western Reserve University. The Millis Report emphasized that every individual needed a primary physician.

In 1966, William Willard, then vice president and dean of the University of Kentucky Medical Center, led the effort to produce the Council Report on Education for Family Practice. This report “focused on family medicine as a needed reform of general practice to balance an overemphasis on medical specialization.”

Today, primary care includes both family practices and internal medicine. Although primary care takes many forms now, it still focuses on being the patient’s first line of healthcare services. Many primary care physicians also collaborate with those secondary healthcare facilities as well as with specialty providers and laboratories to provide quality care for their patients.