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      Closing the health equity gap: evidence-based strategies for primary health care organizations

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          Abstract

          Introduction

          International evidence shows that enhancement of primary health care (PHC) services for disadvantaged populations is essential to reducing health and health care inequities. However, little is known about how to enhance equity at the organizational level within the PHC sector. Drawing on research conducted at two PHC Centres in Canada whose explicit mandates are to provide services to marginalized populations, the purpose of this paper is to discuss (a) the key dimensions of equity-oriented services to guide PHC organizations, and (b) strategies for operationalizing equity-oriented PHC services, particularly for marginalized populations.

          Methods

          The PHC Centres are located in two cities within urban neighborhoods recognized as among the poorest in Canada. Using a mixed methods ethnographic design, data were collected through intensive immersion in the Centres, and included: (a) in-depth interviews with a total of 114 participants (73 patients; 41 staff), (b) over 900 hours of participant observation, and (c) an analysis of key organizational documents, which shed light on the policy and funding environments.

          Results

          Through our analysis, we identified four key dimensions of equity-oriented PHC services: inequity-responsive care; trauma- and violence-informed care; contextually-tailored care; and culturally-competent care. The operationalization of these key dimensions are identified as 10 strategies that intersect to optimize the effectiveness of PHC services, particularly through improvements in the quality of care, an improved 'fit' between people's needs and services, enhanced trust and engagement by patients, and a shift from crisis-oriented care to continuity of care. Using illustrative examples from the data, these strategies are discussed to illuminate their relevance at three inter-related levels: organizational, clinical programming, and patient-provider interactions.

          Conclusions

          These evidence- and theoretically-informed key dimensions and strategies provide direction for PHC organizations aiming to redress the increasing levels of health and health care inequities across population groups. The findings provide a framework for conceptualizing and operationalizing the essential elements of equity-oriented PHC services when working with marginalized populations, and will have broad application to a wide range of settings, contexts and jurisdictions. Future research is needed to link these strategies to quantifiable process and outcome measures, and to test their impact in diverse PHC settings.

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          Most cited references 35

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          Contribution of primary care to health systems and health.

          Evidence of the health-promoting influence of primary care has been accumulating ever since researchers have been able to distinguish primary care from other aspects of the health services delivery system. This evidence shows that primary care helps prevent illness and death, regardless of whether the care is characterized by supply of primary care physicians, a relationship with a source of primary care, or the receipt of important features of primary care. The evidence also shows that primary care (in contrast to specialty care) is associated with a more equitable distribution of health in populations, a finding that holds in both cross-national and within-national studies. The means by which primary care improves health have been identified, thus suggesting ways to improve overall health and reduce differences in health across major population subgroups.
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            Trust and the development of health care as a social institution.

             Lucy Gilson (2003)
            Health systems are inherently relational and so many of the most critical challenges for health systems are relationship and behaviour problems. Yet the disciplinary perspectives that underlie traditional health policy analysis offer only limited and partial insights into human behaviour and relationships. The health sector, therefore, has much to learn from the wider literature on behaviour and the factors that influence it. A central feature of recent debates, particularly, but not only, in relation to social capital, is trust and its role in facilitating collective action, that is co-operation among people to achieve common goals. The particular significance of trust is that it offers an alternative approach to the economic individualism that has driven public policy analysis in recent decades. This paper considers what the debates on trust have to offer health policy analysis by exploring the meaning, bases and outcomes of trust, and its relevance to health systems. It, first, presents a synthesis of theoretical perspectives on the notion of trust. Second, it argues both that trust underpins the co-operation within health systems that is necessary to health production, and that a trust-based health system can make an important contribution to building value in society. Finally, five conclusions are drawn for an approach to health policy analysis that takes trust seriously.
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              The breadth of primary care: a systematic literature review of its core dimensions

              Background Even though there is general agreement that primary care is the linchpin of effective health care delivery, to date no efforts have been made to systematically review the scientific evidence supporting this supposition. The aim of this study was to examine the breadth of primary care by identifying its core dimensions and to assess the evidence for their interrelations and their relevance to outcomes at (primary) health system level. Methods A systematic review of the primary care literature was carried out, restricted to English language journals reporting original research or systematic reviews. Studies published between 2003 and July 2008 were searched in MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, King's Fund Database, IDEAS Database, and EconLit. Results Eighty-five studies were identified. This review was able to provide insight in the complexity of primary care as a multidimensional system, by identifying ten core dimensions that constitute a primary care system. The structure of a primary care system consists of three dimensions: 1. governance; 2. economic conditions; and 3. workforce development. The primary care process is determined by four dimensions: 4. access; 5. continuity of care; 6. coordination of care; and 7. comprehensiveness of care. The outcome of a primary care system includes three dimensions: 8. quality of care; 9. efficiency care; and 10. equity in health. There is a considerable evidence base showing that primary care contributes through its dimensions to overall health system performance and health. Conclusions A primary care system can be defined and approached as a multidimensional system contributing to overall health system performance and health.
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                Author and article information

                Affiliations
                [1 ]University of British Columbia, School of Nursing, T201 – 2211 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 2B5, Canada
                [2 ]University of Northern British Columbia, School of Health Sciences, 3333 University Way, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada
                [3 ]Vancouver Native Health Society, 440 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
                [4 ]Prince George Division of Family Practice, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada
                [5 ]Central Interior Native Health Society, 1140 4th Avenue, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada
                [6 ]Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Health Sciences, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
                [7 ]University of British Columbia Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, 201-2206 East Mal, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
                Contributors
                Journal
                Int J Equity Health
                Int J Equity Health
                International Journal for Equity in Health
                BioMed Central
                1475-9276
                2012
                13 October 2012
                : 11
                : 59
                23061433
                3570279
                1475-9276-11-59
                10.1186/1475-9276-11-59
                Copyright ©2012 Browne et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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                Research

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