Challenges in Primary Care

Primary care is an important part of the healthcare system that helps to reduce complications and hospital admissions through prevention and early intervention. However, there are a number of challenges that are facing primary care that must be addressed to maintain the quality and benefits that primary care can provide. These challenges include, but are not limited to lack of choice, variable quality, reactive versus proactive decisions and physician shortages.

Lack of Choice

Each general practitioner has a particular way of working with patients and promoting their health, which is more compatible with some patients than others. For this reason, it is important that patients are in a position to make a selection and find the general practitioner that best caters to their needs.

However, in some regions there is a noticeable lack of choice and patients may not receive all the benefits of primary care, as they do not have access to the physician best suited to their needs.

Variable Quality

The quality of primary care varies considerably between different practitioners and regions. This can be an issue in some areas where the level of primary care is lacking, and patients may not receive the full benefits. Additionally, different models and types of primary care practices, including public and private based models, highlight the disparity to a greater extent.

There are currently few mechanisms in place to promote higher quality practice such as peer reviewing, performance-based incentives or risk of losing their contract in severe circumstances. It has been suggested that implementing some of these systems may help to improve the quality of care.

Reactive vs. Proactive Decisions

One of the main aims of primary care is for patients to have a trusted practitioner to talk about any symptoms or health issues before they become significant issues that require advanced treatment with risks.

However, many of the management decisions remain reactive rather than proactive, and some complications could be avoided if proactive decision-making was more widespread. There are currently incentives being implemented in many countries to promote earlier management of some health conditions.

Physician Shortage

In order to meet the primary health care demands of the public, there must be an adequate supply of physicians to provide quality care. This is a significant challenge as the health demands are currently increasing more rapidly than the physician supply.

To manage this issue, several approaches will need to be combined. This may include increasing the number of physicians that are trained, improving workplace systems and increasing the efficiency of care without compromising the quality.

Addressing the Challenges

It is clear that there are a number of challenges facing primary care, and it is important that these are identified so that strategies can be implemented to manage them.

In particular, the systems that are implemented in the workplace are crucial to ensure that the resources available are utilized in the most beneficial way. With the advancements in technology, it is possible to introduce more efficient processes that are most useful for repetitive or administrative tasks.

As we move into the future, we should constantly reassess the challenges in primary care to ensure that any emerging issues are recognized quickly and are able to be managed effectively.

By Yolanda Smith, B.Pharm.
Reviewed by Dr. Damien Jonas Wilson, MD