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What is meant by Primary Health Care (PHC), and what are its principles?

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“Primary health care” has two basic meanings.  The first refers to the initial introduction to the health care system experienced by an individual or family.  The way insurance policies are written, before an individual can usually be seen by a specialist, for example, a cardiologist or orthopedist, he or she must first be seen by a “primary care” physician, also referred to as the family doctor, general practitioner, or internist.  The primary care physician assesses the patient’s condition by conducting an examination, questioning the patient, and reviewing the patient’s medical history.  If the primary care physician believes it is warranted, he or she will refer the patient to a specialist.

Another meaning for “primary health care” involves the provision of medical care for people in remote and generally impoverished communities.  The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) lists its principles of primary health care, which are oriented primarily toward less-developed countries and are divided according to age, as follows:

“Information, education and training: Provide basic training in age, gender and culturally sensitive practices addressing knowledge, attitudes and skills for all PHC staff; provide basic training in core competencies of elder care; provide age, gender and culturally appropriate information on health promotion, disease management, and medications for older persons; and review regularly the use of all medication and other therapies, including traditional medicine and practices.

“PHC management systems: Adapt administrative procedures to the special needs of older persons; facilitate access to services for low-income patients; support a continuum of care across the community level; support continuity of care through good record-keeping; ensure participation of older people in decisions on the organization of PHC; and provide age-appropriate information on the operation of PHC centers.

“Physical environment of the PHC center:  Apply the common principles of Universal Design to the PHC center; make safe and affordable transport to the PHC center available; post simple and readable signage to facilitate orientation of older persons; identify key health care staff with name badges; equip PHC centers with good lighting, non-slip surfaces, stable furniture and clear walkways; and ensure that facilities are clean and comfortable.”

These, then, are the principles of Primary Health Care established by the WHO.  They are intended to ensure adequate medical care for all strata of society, and all age groups.

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