What is primary care?

Primary care is the first point of contact for health care for most people. It is mainly provided by GPs (general practitioners), but community pharmacists, opticians and dentists are also primary care providers.

In general practice, the aim is to provide an easily accessible route to care, whatever the patient’s problem. Primary care is based on caring for people rather than specific diseases. This means that professionals working in general practice are generalists, dealing with a broad range of physical, psychological and social problems, rather than specialists in a particular disease area.

An important role is acting as the patient’s advocate and co-ordinating the care of the many people who have multiple health problems. Since primary care practitioners often care for people over extended periods of time, the relationship between patient and doctor is particularly important. Primary care involves providing treatment for common illnesses, the management of long term illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease and the prevention of future ill-health through advice, immunisation and screening programmes.

What is the relationship between primary care and primary health care?

The World Health Organization distinguishes between 'primary care' and 'primary health care' in the following way:

"Primary care is a key process in a health system that provides promotive, protective, preventive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative services throughout the life course. Primary health care (PHC) is a broader whole-of-society approach with three components: (a) primary care and essential public health functions as a core of integrated health services; (b) multisectoral policy and action; and (c) empowered people and communities."

See also: Primary care (PC) and primary health care (PHC). What is the difference? Laura K Muldoon , William E Hogg, Miriam Levitt. Canadian Journal of Public Health. 2006 Sep-Oct;97(5):409-11. doi: 10.1007/BF03405354

About the Centre for Academic Primary Care

The Centre for Academic Primary Care is a leading centre for primary care research and teaching in the UK. We are part of Bristol Medical School.

Learn more about our research and how it aims to improve health care and health outcomes:

Research themes

Group of icons illustrating four domains of primary healthcare - general practice (stethoscope), pharmacy (pill bottle), optometry (glasses), dentistry (tooth).
Four domains of primary care general practice, pharmacy, optometry, dentistry.
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