Primary care research’s role in ending health inequity

Image: Health provider and patient at community clinic in Richmond.

Researchers should consider primary care settings as a crucial avenue for understanding the full picture of health inequity and developing real-world interventions.

In a special communication published today in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, John Heintzman, M.D., associate professor of family medicine, and Miguel Marino, Ph.D., associate professor of family medicine and public health at OHSU, explain the importance of primary care research in understanding health inequities in the United States.

Eliminating health and health care inequities is a longstanding goal of multiple health agencies, and yet they persist, despite decades of research and initiatives to alleviate them.

“Because of its comprehensiveness, primary care research has valuable contributions to make in reducing health inequity,” Dr. Heintzman says. More than 85% of US individuals, across demographic groups, have at least some usual source of care, like a doctor’s office or clinic/health center. Vulnerable and marginalized populations see primary care providers, especially in the nation’s network of community health centers (CHCs).

And these practices routinely collect and share data across research networks: data that captures the exposures, experiences, and care of those most at risk for poor health outcomes over time.

Drs. Heintzman and Marino call on scientists, journals, and funders to increase the incorporation of primary care approaches and findings into their portfolios.

“Primary care providers treat – and health inequities affect – every organ, every system, every malady, in every family, and every community,” Dr. Heintzman says. “Together with public health researchers, we may bring about understanding and intervention to end health inequity in the United States.”

Funding was provided by the National Institute on Aging (grant number: R01AG056337) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01MD011404).