How Primary Care Improves Health Equity

Do you and your family have a regular primary care provider? How easy is it to get in for a visit? Do you need to schedule an appointment months in advance, or are they available as seasonal colds and other health related needs come up?

For most people, the answer today is most likely “no.” With an increasing shortage of primary care providers and practices across the U.S., it can be difficult to find a convenient appointment. As organizations continue to look for ways to address inequity for their people, it’s important for them to recognize the direct role that primary care plays in health equity.

In this blog, we look at how the two are connected, the difference that primary care makes, and what employers can do to support equity within their populations.

The ‘Link’ Between Primary Care and Health Equity

The provider patient relationship is an essential feature of primary care. It is often cited by researchers as the foundational element that most affects outcomes and accessibility, serving as the link between primary care and health equity. That connection is made crystal clear in a recent study that unpacks the essential role primary care plays in advancing health equity from the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF).

Citing sources such as JAMA International and the American Association of Family Physicians Foundation, the study highlights a few characteristics of primary care responsible for this close relationship:

  • Comprehensiveness: The generalized approach results in earlier disease detection, prevention, and reduced severity
  • Continuity of care: On-going care from collaborative teams reduces disparities across populations in preventive screening and high-value services, such as vaccinations
  • Coordination of care: Better coordinated care increases trust in evidence-based recommendations
  • Whole-person orientation: Providers familiar with a patient’s overall medical history and cultural preferences are associated with improved communication, adherence to care plans, and self-management of chronic conditions

The study concludes that primary care is built from the ground up to serve as a “fair, efficient, and accessible way for everyone to enter the health care system.” It can be thought of as healthcare’s front door for its ability to provide convenient, affordable care, appropriate to the community where it’s practiced. When it is absent, people are more likely to experience inequitable care that is inaccessible, disjointed, duplicative, and often more costly.

The Difference Primary Care Makes

A common question is: What are the benefits of equitable care for organizations? What difference does primary care make in the health and wellness of their populations? Research published in the Milbank Quarterly journal provides some evidence-based results that showcase what equitable care achieves and why primary care is responsible.

Drawing from national and cross-national studies alike, primary care was overwhelmingly associated with a more equitable distribution of health among populations. Across factors like income-inequity and socioeconomic characteristics, the practice was responsible for lifechanging differences in outcomes, often directly related to prevention of illness and mortality, including:

  • Increases in life-expectancy;
  • Lower rates of chronic conditions; and,
  • Better self-reported perceptions of personal health status.

Similar health-related outcomes due to more equitable care can be found in other studies as well, including reductions in costly hospital admissions and visits to the emergency room when there’s convenient access to routine and preventive care and an estimated 51 day increase in life expectancy for every 10 additional primary care providers in a community.

It’s the benefits of primary care, like greater access to services, a whole-person oriented approach, and better quality of care through prevention and on-going management that lead to more equitable outcomes for more people. That’s why organizations who support better health through equitable care have come to expect happier, more productive workforces and lower costs.

The Secret for Employers: Healthcare Access

It’s clear that primary care is key for leaders who want their healthcare benefits to support health equity within their populations. Yet the challenge remains: many communities lack adequate access to primary care. So, how can employers ensure their people have the primary care they need?

One potential solution to consider are onsite or nearsite wellness centers, which improve access to care and deliver better health outcomes in one convenient location. Another could be the introduction of virtual primary care through a digital wellness center. This integrated virtual environment allows organizations to provide access to comprehensive, team-based care for their people, whenever or wherever they may be, right at their fingertips.

For organizations of all sizes and communities at large, the efficacy of primary care in advancing health equity is well established, it delivers on better community health. That’s why it’s embedded in our culture at Premise Health and ingrained in how our providers deliver care. Our care teams are trained to look for potential barriers to care and help members overcome them to achieve their healthiest lives.

Whether you’re an employer, a benefits team member, a health plan manager, or a union organizer, there’s never been a better time to invest in the health and wellness of your people and curb health inequity. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of advanced primary care, reach out today!

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