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
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 those 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.
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Regular and ongoing care
Your main point of contact for primary health care is your health home. For most people, this will be their family doctor's or nurse practitioner’s clinic.
Health homes will be different across Alberta, but they all have the same role:
- they are a place where you get primary health care services from a team and connect to other health and social services you need
- they help co-ordinate and manage your health care journey
Continuity of care with a health home
One of the main benefits of having a health home is continuity of care. This 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.
More benefits of continuity of care include:
- timely access to a trusted primary health care team
- more support to achieve personal health care goals
- more preventive care and chronic disease management
- 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 have to 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 then share information with your regular health provider.
When you require urgent medical attention from an emergency department, you can make sure someone in your health home is aware of the visit.
Primary health care models
There are many ways of delivering primary health care.
Primary Care Networks
In Alberta, Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are the most common model of team-based primary health care delivery in Alberta. PCNs are partnerships between a group of family physicians and Alberta Health Services (AHS). 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 in Alberta with over 4,100 physicians, 90 registered pediatricians, and the full-time equivalent (FTE) of about 1,600 other health care providers serving over 3.8 million Albertans. To learn more about PCNs, you may access the following information:
- Primary Care Networks
- Primary Care Networks profiles
- Primary Care Networks review
- Primary Care Networks zone profiles
- Primary Care Networks Policy Manual
- PCN Primary Health Care Indicator Set
PCN Nurse Practitioner Support Program
The PCN Nurse Practitioner Support Program began in April 2019 with the goal to increase nurse practitioner services/presence especially 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.
The current PCN governance structure includes a Provincial PCN Committee and five 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 five 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 accessible, comprehensive and culturally sensitive primary care to populations and individuals who face multiple barriers to accessing health services including ethnicity, poverty, homelessness/lack of appropriate housing, addictions, mental illness, literacy and education barriers, social isolation and lack of social supports, or no Alberta Health Care coverage.
Community Health Centres emphasize prevention, wellness, social determinants of health, health equity, and community governance and leadership.
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.
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.
AHS divides the province 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, and evidence as to which quality services are needed on a timely and efficient basis to address the area’s needs.
Primary health care outcomes
Building on the Primary Health Care Strategy and Evaluation Framework, Alberta is working to achieve a primary health care-oriented health system that delivers the following outcomes:
- Access – All Albertans have access to timely, appropriate primary health care services from a regular provider or team. Care options are flexible and reflect individual and population health needs.
- Integration – Every Albertan has a health home that provides primary health care services and seamless transitions to other health, social and community services. Coordination and communication between providers and organizations is promoted and facilitated by service planning and the provincial governance structure.
- Quality – Albertans receive high quality services from an accountable, innovative and sustainable primary health care system. Health service delivery is evidence informed, follows best practices, and uses resources efficiently.
- Albertans as Partners – Albertans and their social support networks are meaningful partners in achieving their health and wellness goals. Health services are proactive, recognize and address underlying influences on health outcomes, and respect individual needs and preferences.
- Culturally Safe and Appropriate Care – First Nations, Métis and Inuit persons have access to high quality, culturally safe care that is free of racism, and designed and delivered in a manner that respects their unique health care needs.
Primary health care strategy
The Primary Health Care Strategy and Evaluation Framework is Alberta’s plan to improve primary health care delivery in Alberta.
Recent stakeholder engagement and consultation
The Modernizing Alberta’s Primary Health Care System initiative established expert panels to provide recommendations to the minister on how to strengthen primary health care in Alberta and ensure all Albertans have access to timely, appropriate primary health care services.