The National Institute of Medicine defines primary care as “the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians 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. Primary care providers are usually internists, family physicians, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants. Studies show that access to primary care is associated with improved health outcomes.
Primary care providers offer consistent care, early detection and treatment of disease, chronic disease management, and preventive care. Patients with a regular source of care are more likely to receive recommended preventive services such as flu shots, blood pressure, and cancer screenings.
However, disparities in access to primary care exist. Many people face barriers that decrease access to services and increase the risk of poor health outcomes, such as lack of health insurance, language-related barriers, disabilities, inability to take time off work to attend appointments, geographic and transportation-related barriers, and a shortage of primary care providers. Factors such as access to transportation, travel distance, and the supply of primary care providers can also limit access to primary care.
Primary care is critical for improving population health and reducing health disparities. Therefore, addressing barriers to primary care access may help reduce disparities and the risk of poor health outcomes. Digital solutions like telehealth can improve access to primary care by reducing barriers related to transportation, time off work, and scheduling flexibility.
Adapted from OASH (2023