Typically this provider acts as the first contact and principal point of continuing care for patients and coordinates other specialist care that the patient may need. Patients commonly receive primary care from professionals such as a nurse practitioner. Depending on the nature of the health condition, patients may 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 healthcare strategy. Primary care involves the widest scope of healthcare, 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. 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.
Common chronic illnesses usually treated in primary care may include, for example: hypertension, angina, diabetes, asthma, COPD, depression and anxiety, back pain, arthritis or thyroid dysfunction. Primary care also includes many basic maternal and child health care.
Primary healthcare results in better health outcomes, reduced health disparities and lower spending, including on avoidable emergency room visits and hospital care. With that being said, primary care practitioners are an important component in ensuring that the healthcare system as a whole is sustainable.