The Value of Primary Care for Individuals

Primary care is valuable to individuals in at least the five ways listed below:

  1. It provides a place to which patients can bring a wide range of health problems for appropriate attention—a place in which patients can expect, in most instances, that their problems will be resolved without referral.
  2. It guides patients through the health system, including appropriate referrals for services from other health professionals.
  3. It facilitates an ongoing relationship between patients and clinicians and fosters participation by patients in decisionmaking about their health and their own care.
  4. It provides opportunities for disease prevention and health promotion as well as early detection of problems.
  5. It helps build bridges between personal health care services and patients' families and communities that can assist in meeting the health needs of the patient.

These key components of high quality and efficient health care for individuals are illustrated in vignettes throughout this section of the chapter.1 Reflecting the nature of primary care, the vignettes include situations in which a variety of seemingly routine or simple problems may be embedded in the possibility of a patient's having conditions that could have serious consequences for his or her health. They illustrate the need for excellent primary care training that underlies clinicians' ability to distinguish among simple, serious, and complex conditions and to provide care for all.

Addressing Most Problems That Patients Bring

Most of the problems that people bring to the health care system are appropriately resolved at the level of primary care. Having the capacity to address ''a large majority of personal health care needs" also means that primary care offers patients a sensible and convenient route to appropriate care, which may involve referrals or coordination of services by others; patients do not need to guess for themselves what is causing a symptom or concern to be able to enter the health care system at the right place.


Although fictitious composites, the vignettes are drawn from the clinical experience of the committee members to illustrate the terms in the definition and a variety of settings, practitioners, patients, and problems.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement