Health services are a broad group of healthcare and related activities that can include education, promotion, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and health protection. They are often formally organized as systems of established institutions and organizations that supply services to respond to the health needs and demands of targeted populations within a specified financial and regulatory framework. In many cases, they are provided by healthcare professionals. They can be grouped into the categories of primary care, secondary care and tertiary care.
Primary care is the first point of contact with a healthcare system for people with a medical issue that is not life-threatening. It usually takes place in medical clinics such as general practice offices, community health centers and allied health practices such as physiotherapy and podiatry. It can also be provided through health advice telephone helplines such as NURSE-ON-CALL.
Research has shown that high levels of access to primary care can reduce mortality in socially deprived areas of a country. Areas with abundant primary healthcare resources experience lower postneonatal and infant mortality rates than those with sparse availability of the same.
People with a regular source of primary healthcare tend to get better preventive services and more accurate diagnoses than people who do not have such a facility (Starfield 1998). However, the pervasive U.S. focus on the provision of “access” to health services has detracted from the need to ensure that people are receiving the right kind of primary care at the right time and in the right places. In particular, existing national data health interview surveys combine safety net providers, such as community health centers and hospital emergency departments, so that their positive impact on the population’s health is obscured by their lesser primary care emphasis.
A key challenge in providing high quality primary healthcare is preventing comorbidity and minimizing the negative consequences of medical interventions. This includes ensuring that patients see their primary healthcare providers regularly for health checkups and for prescription refills. It also means ensuring that patients are referred to appropriate specialists when they require their expertise.
In developed countries, people with a regular source of primary healthcare have higher self-rated health and better overall health than those without such a facility. Moreover, every dollar spent on primary healthcare in OECD countries increases life expectancy by about a year.
Individuals interested in pursuing careers in the field of health services can pursue various educational paths. Many healthcare and health services positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, although those seeking managerial or highly technical roles may need to earn a master’s or doctorate degree. Students who want to study a specific aspect of healthcare can also opt for certificate programs that offer specialized training in the area. These programs generally take a shorter amount of time to complete than a graduate degree. Some of them can even be completed online. Other options include taking free online courses to learn more about healthcare services. Several universities in the United States offer these courses.