About primary health care

Primary health care includes all the services in your community that support the day-to-day health needs of you and your family through every stage of life.

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Primary health care is the first and main place people go for:

  • health care or wellness advice and programs
  • non emergent treatment of a health issue or injury
  • to diagnose and manage a health condition

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Primary health care includes all the services in your community that support the day-to-day health needs of you and your family through every stage of life.

Some examples of primary health care services include:

  • a visit to your primary care provider (family doctor or nurse practitioner)
  • a consultation with a specialist
  • advice from a pharmacist
  • preventative care and chronic disease management
  • an appointment with other health care providers such as a dietitian, physiotherapist or mental health provider

Primary health care includes a focus on wellness and connecting you with social supports that influence your health status, such as housing or family and community services; and building and facilitating access to culturally safe and respectful primary care for Indigenous peoples in Alberta.

Primary health care draws on the expertise of many different providers working together. It recognizes that your health, wellness and quality of life are influenced by your economic, cultural and physical situations, and your spiritual beliefs.

Regular and ongoing care

Your main point of contact for primary health care are your health care providers. For most people, this is your family doctor or nurse practitioner’s clinic.

Health care providers will be different across Alberta, but they all have the same role:

  • provide a place where you get primary health care services from a team and connect to other health and social services
  • help co-ordinate and manage your health care journey

Continuity of care

Continuity of care means you have an ongoing relationship with your family doctor or nurse practitioner and other team members. Your health information is transferred between care providers, and care is co-ordinated across different settings.

Other benefits include:

  • access to a trusted primary health care team
  • support achieving personal health care goals
  • more preventive care and chronic disease management
  • support from a care team who will partner with you to manage your health care journey

Having a consistent relationship means your health care providers know you and your medical history. This reduces the number of times you must tell your story or undergo duplicate tests.

  • Your knowledge, ideas, and preferences are valued.
  • You can actively participate in your health care decision-making, which helps you and your provider to better plan and co-ordinate your care.

Evidence shows that people who have a regular primary health care provider or team:

  • are more satisfied with their care
  • receive more preventive and chronic disease care
  • make fewer visits to the emergency room
  • are not admitted to hospital as often

You can help maintain continuity of care by going to your regular family doctor or nurse practitioner when you need a health service.

If your regular provider is unavailable, you can seek care from other members of the team or clinic who will share information with your regular health care provider.

When you require urgent medical attention from an emergency department, you can make sure someone within your health care team is aware of the visit.

Primary health care models

Primary health care is predominantly provided across the province in over 1,000 community-based physician clinics. In addition, there are a number of other ways primary care is delivered in Alberta:

  • Primary Care Networks

    Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are the most common model of team-based primary health care delivery in Alberta. PCNs aim to provide comprehensive, collaborative primary health care services to the local communities they serve, working together with teams of health care professionals, such as nurses, dietitians and pharmacists.

    There are currently 39 PCNs with over 4,200 physicians, 91 registered pediatricians, and the full-time equivalent of about 1,600 other health care providers serving over 4 million Albertans. To learn more about PCNs, you may access the following information:

  • PCN Nurse Practitioner Support Program

    The PCN Nurse Practitioner Support Program began in 2019 with the goal to increase nurse practitioner services in high demand areas and priorities to:

    • increase access to primary health care, for example, after-hours, weekends, rural and remote areas
    • meet unmet demand for primary health care services
    • provide care to underserved populations
    • support chronic disease management

    The program provides funding to PCNs to improve access to timely care by using the expertise of nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are experienced registered nurses with advanced education who provide a full range of comprehensive health services.

    Learn more about the PCN Nurse Practitioner Support Program.

  • PCN governance

    The current PCN governance structure includes a Provincial PCN Committee and 5 Zone PCN Committees and has been in place since 2017.

    The Provincial PCN Committee was created to advance PCN and primary health care provincial and government priorities. It provides the Health Minister with advice related to governance, leadership and policy. Its main objective is to advance integration and alignment of primary health care services between and across Alberta’s PCNs, AHS and community organizations. The provincial committee is chaired by Alberta Health and includes a public member, representatives from PCNs, Alberta Health, AHS, the Alberta Federation of Regulated Health Professionals (AFRHP) and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).

    Five Zone PCN Committees report to the Provincial PCN Committee and work toward standardization and consistency of primary health care services across the 5 geographic regions. The Zone PCN Committees include representatives from PCNs, AHS and local communities.

    To provide more community-based health care closer to where Albertans live, the Zone PCN Committees assess the health needs of people in their area and create Zone PCN Service Plans to address gaps in health service delivery.

  • Community Health Centres

    Community Health Centres offer comprehensive and culturally sensitive primary care to populations and individuals who may face barriers accessing health services because of:

    • ethnicity
    • poverty
    • homelessness or lack of appropriate housing
    • addictions
    • mental illness
    • literacy and education barriers
    • social isolation and lack of social supports
    • no Alberta Health Care coverage

    Community Health Centres emphasize prevention, wellness, social determinants of health, health equity, community governance and leadership.

    Learn more about Community Health Centres: The Alex, CUPSRadius and Jasper Place.

    AHS’ role in primary care delivery

    AHS owns and clinically operates several primary care clinics. Many of these clinics are rural areas of the province, and in urban areas there is a focus on populations living with complex health and social needs.

Community profiles

To assist with primary health care planning, community profile reports have been written to provide a broad range of demographic, socio-economic, and population health statistics considered relevant to primary health care for communities across the province.

The province is divided into 5 large health service zones. These zones are subdivided into 132 smaller geographic areas called local geographic areas (LGAs).

Each profile offers an overview of the:

  • current health status of the residents in the LGA
  • indicators of the area’s current and future health needs
  • evidence as to which quality services are needed on a timely and efficient basis to address the area’s needs

Read the primary health care community profiles.