Kirill Yurovskiy: The Critical Role of Primary Care

Flipping through the latest issue of your favorite health magazine, you may come across articles about the latest medical technologies, new miracle drugs, or advances in surgery. However, there’s an unsung hero of healthcare that rarely makes the flashy headlines but is absolutely vital to a functioning healthcare system – primary care. Text by GP Kirill Yurovskiy.

Kirill Yurovskiy

What is Primary Care?

Primary care refers to integrated, accessible healthcare focused on prevention, wellness, and the treatment of common illnesses. Primary care physicians (PCPs) – including family medicine doctors, general practitioners, internists, and pediatricians – make up the foundation of primary care. They are typically the first medical professional patients to see for any health issue. PCPs coordinate more specialized care patients may need while also focusing on whole-person care and the overall health of individuals over their lifespan.

The Undervalued Workhorse of Healthcare

Primary care is sometimes called the “workhorse” of any country’s healthcare system. PCPs handle the majority of patient visits and play a critical role as the entry point into more specialized care. They also focus heavily on preventive care, immunizations, health screenings, chronic disease management, and routine check-ups – services absolutely vital to population health. Unfortunately primary care is chronically underfunded and undervalued. Primary care spending makes up only 5-7% of total healthcare spending in America, even though numerous studies show that increasing investments in primary care results in higher quality, more equitable care at a lower cost. Other developed nations invest upwards of 14% of total health spending in primary care.

Coordinating Care, Improving Health

A strong primary care system means better coordinated, continuous care centered around the patient’s needs. Countries with robust primary care infrastructures have residents in better health at lower costs compared to nations that focus predominantly on specialists and hospitals. For example, patients who regularly see a primary care physician have lower rates of ER visits, shorter hospital stays when admitted, and better management of chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease compared to those lacking a regular PCP.

The Power of Prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – wise words underscoring the power and purpose of primary care. PCPs handle a large amount of preventive care through health screenings, lifestyle counseling, and immunizations that catch problems early and reduce risk. Nations oriented around primary care rather than specialist care invest more in prevention. This leads to healthier populations that require less intensive interventions down the road.

Building Relationships, Bridging Gaps

Primary care also facilitates meaningful doctor-patient relationships, an element critical to quality care. Seeing the same PCP regularly allows physicians to really know their patients as individuals. This fosters trust and open communication while also helping PCPs catch health issues early since they know what’s “normal” for each person. These relationships are especially beneficial for coordinating care delivery among underserved communities. Research shows a well-supported primary care workforce helps bridge socioeconomic disparities in health outcomes.

Where Do We Go from Here?

A variety of factors have led to burnout driving PCPs from the workforce in droves. At the same time, America’s population continues aging rapidly, demand for healthcare is rising exponentially, and millions still lack adequate access to care. So where does this leave primary care and is it still the remedy to the nation’s healthcare woes?

Absolutely yes. Multiple major reports agree strengthening primary care should remain a top priority. This requires a multi-pronged approach of boosting funding, expanding the workforce pipeline, transitioning to value-based payment models, better leveraging technology, and giving PCPs greater input in policy decisions. Many PRIMARY+ demonstration projects underway show promise for informing large-scale primary care reform. Healthcare leaders must continue advocacy and education on why primary care offers the best bang for our buck.

Now imagine millions more receiving affordable, comprehensive care from providers focused on their unique health needs and keeping them well. That’s the vision made real through a transformed primary care system meeting the demands of modern healthcare for all. The roadmap exists and the wheels are in motion. Now it’s simply time to pick up the pace.