The term ‘primary health care’ is commonly used interchangeably with ‘primary care’. However, strictly speaking, primary health care is a strategy of public health, derived from the social model of health and sustained by the Declaration of Alma Alta, which was jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF in 1979. Primary health care services confront the social, political, environmental and economic determinants of health and play an important role in dismantling barriers to health and health care and addressing health disparities.
Primary care, in distinction, is usually taken to mean the first point of entry into the health system, generally for someone who is sick and seeking treatment or assistance. In Australia this is almost always the GP’s office. It may simply involve a single service or intermittent management of a disease condition. While there is the potential, increasingly recognised, for primary care to provide preventative and early intervention services, continuity of care, and referral on for additional medical and non-medical services, this should not be construed as sufficient for the achievement of a comprehensive primary health care agenda.
It is a particular problem for health care reform in Australia that these two approaches to health and wellbeing – primary health care (PHC) and primary care (PC) - are often run together, with expectations that PHC will be effected by the same people, essentially GPs, who provide PC. This is especially the case when tackling issues such as Indigenous health, smoking, obesity, maternal health and immunisation.