By Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
This week is National Health Care Access Week, a time when we recognize health care workers who are expanding access to care for patients nationwide. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in the United States, there are more than 7,200 primary care health care professional shortage areas (HPSAs), many of which are in rural areas. An HPSA is an area that doesn’t have an adequate number of health care providers for the population, which results in a lack of access to care.
Within these HPSAs, there are more than 81 million people. This translates to only 55.5% of our nation’s primary care not needs being met. We need to add more than 15,000 new health care providers to address this deficit. This is truly a big problem and makes the subject of this awareness week all the more critical.
Primary care is essentially the front line in defense of your health. Primary care is what it sounds like: general health care, including general health promotion and maintenance, disease prevention and the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic conditions. Primary care providers — many of whom come from backgrounds in family health care or internal medicine — specialize in diagnosing, treating and preventing a wide variety of conditions, which can help keep your family safe and healthy.
By ensuring access to primary care, patients and communities win. It is recommended that every person establish a relationship with a primary care provider, like a nurse practitioner. They will be your first point of contact for most health needs, including wellness checks, routine screenings and non-emergency illnesses, but they are more than just the health care provider you turn to when you are sick or need a checkup. Your primary care provider should know you as a person and understand the nuances of your health history, your health fears, your reactions to medications, your lifestyle choices and your treatment preferences. A strong provider relationship leads to better care and better health outcomes throughout the continuum of life.
This National Health Care Access Week, we salute all of the dedicated professionals nationwide working on expanding access to primary care for their patients. Increased access means healthier and happier lives, and that is something worth recognizing. Let us all dedicate ourselves to expanding access to care so every single person receives the high-quality care they deserve.