Difference Between Primary and Secondary Care

Healthcare involves diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of illnesses, injuries or mental conditions. Healthcare is delivered by qualified professionals for the betterment of well-being. Various countries have different health systems. Some are free and some are paid, and some countries have a mixed system. General configuration includes curative, preventive, and administrative sectors. Exact hierarchy differs from country to country. Health sector has tiers according to the delivery of healthcare: Primary, secondary and tertiary.

What is Primary Health Care?

Primary care health professionals play a leading role in the community. They are the first contact medical professionals. They are usually family practitioners, general practitioners, non-physician care providers or nurse practitioners. According to patient preference, health system, and availability of facilities, patients may visit any of those medical personnel. Primary contact practitioners refer patients to higher levels of care as needed. Skin disorders, back pain, upper respiratory tract infections are among the commonest reasons for consulting a primary care provider. Primary healthcare centers cater for the widest range of clients. People of all ages, races, economic groups, cultures, and religions with illnesses or injuries and those who want to maintain top physical form receive care at primary level. Therefore, all medical professionals in primary health system must have a broad knowledge base. Patients usually come to the same practitioner for routine checkups, and many expect the doctor to know them on sight or after a simple introduction. Continuous care is a key feature of primary health system. Because the world population is ageing because of advances in healthcare, non-communicable diseases are on the rise. Therefore, the World Health Organization recommends training in this area for all medical professionals.

What is Secondary Health Care?

Secondary care involves specialists. They do not usually have first contact with patients. In some countries where there is an open health system, patients consult specialists directly. In this situation, the levels of care merge. Usually secondary healthcare providers receive patients through a referral system. Secondary healthcare also includes emergency care at ER for short lasting serious illnesses, specialist care during delivery and imaging. In some instances, secondary care refers to hospital care even though many secondary health care professionals like psychotherapists and physiotherapists do not work at hospitals. 

What is the difference between Primary and Secondary Care?

• Primary healthcare caters for a larger group while secondary healthcare caters for the needs of a few.

• Primary care is the first contact while secondary care may or may not be the first contact according to the national health system.

• Primary care system gets patients through self-referral while secondary care system gets patients through self-referral as well as from primary care centers.