Primary health care encompasses a large range of providers and services across the public, private and non-government sectors.
At a clinical level, it usually involves the first (primary) layer of services encountered in health care and requires teams of health professionals working together to provide comprehensive, continuous and person-centred care.
While most Australians will receive primary health care through their GP, primary health care providers also include nurses (including general practice nurses, community nurses and nurse practitioners), allied health professionals, midwives, pharmacists, dentists, and Aboriginal health workers.
Primary health care is the frontline of Australia’s health care system. It can be provided in the home or in community-based settings such as in general practices, other private practices, community health, local government, and non-government service settings for example, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.
The types of services delivered under primary health care are broad ranging and include: health promotion, prevention and screening, early intervention, treatment and management.
Services may be targeted to specific population groups such as: older persons, maternity and child health, youth health, people living in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse or low socio-economic backgrounds.
Primary health care services may also target specific health and lifestyle conditions, for example: sexual health, drug and alcohol services, oral health, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, mental health, obesity and cancer.
Primary health care services will also look and operate differently as one moves from metropolitan areas to rural and remote settings. Significant variations may relate to geography, community and population characteristics, socio-economic circumstances, infrastructure, health status, and workforce mix and availability. Health services in rural and remote areas are particularly dependent on primary health care services, particularly those provided by GPs.
Social determinants of health strongly influence the health of individuals and communities, and affect the sustainability and accessibility of health services. It is therefore important that primary health service planning and delivery recognises the influence that factors such as housing, education, employment, infrastructure and transport can have on the health of those who live in the community, and build partnerships across sectors when there is a need to address specific issues affecting a community.