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Editor: Danielle SimpsonPerformance at a glance button

Opportunities to Enhance Primary Health Care in Canada
By Rachel Thomason

Older woman and doctor

Primary healthcare is an essential part of any healthcare system. In Canada, a primary care provider, typically a family physician, is usually the first point of contact for family members from infants to seniors. Prenatal care, baby wellness visits, regular check-ups, mental healthcare, prevention and health management are just some of the many reasons to visit a family physician. Without a strong and innovative primary healthcare system, the entire healthcare system suffers.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR ) 2009 Strategic Plan made primary healthcare and community-based care a priority area. This followed a renewed relationship with the Partnerships for Health System Improvement (PHSI), a program that supports high-quality applied health services research. The CIHR strategic plan addressed the fact that patient-oriented care is critical for the success of the Canadian healthcare system and that this can be achieved through investments that “support people, infrastructure and programs devoted to leading-edge, patient-oriented research.”

Cracks in the Foundation
In January 2010, the CIHR held the Primary Healthcare Summit in Toronto to discuss primary healthcare reform. The Summit brought together primary healthcare researchers, provincial and federal leaders, research funders, primary healthcare providers and representatives from national and provincial health organizations across Canada. According to the CIHR Primary Healthcare Summit 2010 Final Report Summary, Canada has yet to achieve the strong, patient-centred primary healthcare system that it desperately needs.

A few of the challenges identified in the final report were a lack of communication and information sharing, access, insufficient use of electronic medical records (EMRs) and limited patient involvement.
The two day summit explored the diversity of primary care research; understanding current barriers and investigating solutions; innovative delivery models; and engaging in dialogue for chronic disease prevention and management through patient-oriented models. A key message from the summit was that if we look at primary healthcare as the face of the Canadian healthcare system, we find that there is a need for quality research and the implementation of effective practices and procedures to make the system more efficient.

Rebuilding Primary Healthcare in Canada
A few of the suggestions made at the summit to improve primary healthcare and primary healthcare research were: create an EMR system to improve communication and information sharing; improve performance measurement of primary healthcare and educating primary healthcare providers and policy makers on the importance of patient-centered care..
With the pledge at the summit to “make Canada an international leader in primary healthcare by 2020”, the CIHR’s support for primary healthcare is clear. At the summit the CIHR announced a call for applications to the Summer Institute: Revisiting the Foundations of Primary Healthcare Research, which is a multi-day training opportunity for students, fellows, researchers and decision makers. More recently, at the North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG) Annual Meeting in the fall, the CIHR made an important announcement regarding future funding opportunities for primary healthcare research.

Moving Forward
At NAPCRG in November 2010, Leah Jurkovic, Associate Director of CIHR’s Institute for Health Services and Policy Research (IHSPR), announced that CIHR will be supporting research excellence and building research capacity through the Strategic Research Initiative in Community-Based Primary Healthcare (CBPHC).

The CBPHC will be focusing on two specific themes; concentrating on effective management and prevention of chronic disease in the primary healthcare system; and responsive and accessible community-based primary healthcare for vulnerable populations. An underlying current running within the two themes are patient-centred care and the role of community-based primary healthcare along the continuum of care.

 The IHSPR plans to support community-based primary healthcare through planning grants for team grants; and career/fellowship salary and awards. The timelines for these awards are expected in early 2011. These funding opportunities and 2010’s momentum are a clear sign that CIHR is committed to moving primary healthcare in the right direction.

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