Realising the Potential of Primary Health Care

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The rapid spread of COVID-19 added urgency to the need to address long-standing pressures on health systems, linked to growing citizens’ expectations, population ageing and more complex and costly health care needs. As the first point of contact, primary health care that provides comprehensive, continuous, and co-ordinated care is key to boosting preventive care, treating those who need care, and helping people become more active in managing their own health. It has the potential to improve health system efficiency and health outcomes for people across socio-economic levels, and make health systems people-centred. This report examines primary health care across OECD countries before the COVID-19 pandemic, and draws attention to how primary health care is not living up to its full potential. Doing things differently – through new models of organising services, better co-ordination among providers, better use of digital technology, and better use of resources and incentives – helps to improve care, reduce the need for hospitalisations, and mitigate health inequalities. This report identifies key policy challenges that OECD countries need to address to realise the full potential of primary health care, and reviews progress and innovations towards transforming primary health care.


Greater efficiency

This chapter analyses the efficiency of primary health care across OECD countries. The chapter starts with a review of published studies which shows that strong primary health care makes health systems more efficient, notably by containing the rate of growth in health spending, and by reducing the use of costly hospital inputs. The chapter then goes on to show that there are unrealised opportunities from better primary health care, and that systems will need to operate differently in order to reap better efficiency from primary health care across OECD countries. The chapter concludes by identifying areas where policy makers need to act so as to realise efficiency gains. Special emphasis is devoted to changes in training and improved matching of skills to tasks, greater use of digital technology, financial incentives that encourage good primary health care processes and good health outcomes, as well as availing primary and community care options.


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