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Primary Care (PC) and Primary Health Care (PHC)

What is the Difference?

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Primary Care and Primary Health Care are very similar terms which are often employed interchangeably, but which are also used to denote quite different concepts. Much time and energy is spent discussing which term is the appropriate one for a particular application. There is a growing recognition internationally that the two terms describe two quite distinct entities. Recent Canadian uses of the two terms are, for the most part, consistent with the international uses. Primary Care, the shorter term, describes a narrower concept of “family doctor-type” services delivered to individuals. Primary Health Care is a broader term which derives from core principles articulated by the World Health Organization and which describes an approach to health policy and service provision that includes both services delivered to individuals (Primary Care services) and populationlevel “public health-type” functions.


« Soins primaires » et « soins de santé primaires » sont des expressions très semblables que l’on emploie souvent de façon interchangeable, mais qui peuvent aussi désigner des notions assez différentes. On consacre parfois beaucoup de temps et d’énergie à discuter de l’expression appropriée dans tel ou tel contexte. Partout dans le monde, on commence à reconnaître qu’elles décrivent deux entités bien distinctes. Les emplois récents de ces deux expressions au Canada sont, pour la plupart, conformes à leurs emplois ailleurs dans le monde. La plus courte des deux, « soins primaires », a un sens restreint et désigne les services comme ceux fournis par les médecins de famille à des particuliers. L’expression « soins de santé primaires » a un sens plus large qui découle des principes de base énoncés par l’Organisation mondiale de la santé; elle désigne une approche des politiques sanitaires et de la prestation de services qui englobe à la fois les services aux particuliers (les services de soins de première ligne) et les fonctions de « santé publique » qui s’adressent à des populations entières.

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Correspondence to Laura K. Muldoon MD, MPH.

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Source of Funding and Disclaimer: Funding for this research was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Primary Health Care Transition Fund. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

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Muldoon, L.K., Hogg, W.E. & Levitt, M. Primary Care (PC) and Primary Health Care (PHC). Can J Public Health 97, 409–411 (2006).

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