McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Collaboration between primary care and public health improves health

By Amanda Boundris
Published: December 17, 2012
Ruta Valaitis
Ruta Valaitis, an associate professor of nursing and holder of the Dorothy C. Hall Primary Health Care Nursing Chair

Canadians may remember the frustration of standing in a long line for a flu shot during the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009. But, it doesn't have to be that way, says Ruta Valaitis, an associate professor of nursing at McMaster University and holder of its Dorothy C. Hall Primary Health Care Nursing Chair.

In one northern community, outlined in Strengthening Primary Health Care through Primary Care and Public Health Collaboration PDF, released today, public health and primary care staff teamed up to build an integrated scheduling and immunization tracking system, while sharing staff and involving volunteers.

In the report, Valaitis and her investigator teams in Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia explored how public health and primary care can boost collaboration to improve health and the quality and effectiveness of primary health care systems in Canada. It is the culmination of her team's four and half years of research funded by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI).

"Primary care and public health collaboration makes sense and working together is important in all healthcare systems to improve the delivery of services," Valaitis said.

Primary care is the first point of entry to a health care system, often a doctor or a nurse. Public health is an organized activity to promote, protect, improve, and restore the health of individuals, specified groups, or the population.

"Collaboration between primary care and public health can no longer be viewed as a nice to have, it must be seen as need to have," said Stephen Samis, Vice President, Programs, Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement.

The report's findings indicate that the health issues most often addressed through collaborations in all provinces include communicable disease control, chronic disease prevention and management, parent-child programming, youth and health promotion programs, and women's health programs.

Valaitis and her team have designed an ecological framework to facilitate and sustain the partnership based on key systemic, organizational, interpersonal and intrapersonal factors.

Barriers to successful collaboration include lack of funding, policy, and lack of an integrated information and communication infrastructure. Another dilemma, Valaitis said, is that primary care is not mandated to collaborate, whereas public health is provincially mandated to work in partnerships with other organizations.

This research was funded in large part by CFHI and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research HSPRN Partnership Program PDF.

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