Step 1: Ensure an adequate supply of health workers
An adequate supply of human resources for health on a national and subnational level is a foundation for implementing interventions intended to improve availability of effective PHC services. Recruiting, training, and deploying an appropriately sized and adequately trained workforce is discussed in greater detail in the Workforce module (forthcoming). However, an adequate supply of competent providers is only a first step towards achieving high-quality, available, and effective services.2
Step 2: Ensure that trained and competent PHC proviers are available to patients
The presence of an appropriate number of providers is of limited benefit, however, if providers are absent from their planned shifts or if service delivery is structured in such a way that patients are unable to access a skilled provider at convenient times. Patients can only receive high-quality care from competent providers if those providers are present in facilities or communities and trained in the relevant care. If provider absenteeism is driven by facility-level factors such as inadequate supervision, poor remuneration, a sense of ineffectiveness due to poor training or inadequate supplies, or a lack of professional development, improving provider motivation may concurrently address provider availability.
Even with the availability of large numbers of health workers, inadequately trained and skilled providers will likely not contribute to improving either individual or population-level health outcomes. Frontline primary care service delivery is a highly complex task, requiring the ability to diagnose and manage a wide range of possible illnesses in undifferentiated patients presenting at the first contact point with the health system. Competency at these tasks requires substantial experience and training that often goes beyond typical academic degree-based educational programs, requiring post-graduate experience and supervision. It is this comprehensive set of skills effectively applied in community settings that are likely to be responsible, at least in part, for overall improvements in morbidity and mortality.
Step 3: Ensure respect and safe practices throughout
There are some overlaps between provider competence and patient-provider respect and trust. Experiential quality of care – measured from the patient perspective – may influence patient choice and utilization of primary care facilities. Competence and safety have similar overlaps – a system staffed with a workforce without the necessary clinical competency will most certainly perform poorly on safety. Safety includes not only provider knowledge in safe diagnostic, prescribing, and procedural practices, but also accessibility to the necessary supplies and equipment for a provider to perform his or her job.