Objectives: We examined primary care and public health activities among federally funded health centers, to better understand their successes, the barriers encountered, and the lessons learned.
Methods: We used qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data from 9 health centers, stratified by administrative division, urban-rural location, and race/ethnicity of patients served. Descriptive data on patient and institutional characteristics came from the Uniform Data System, which collects data from all health centers annually. We administered questionnaires and conducted phone interviews with key informants.
Results: Health centers performed well on primary care coordination and community orientation scales and reported conducting many essential public health activities. We identified specific needs for integrating primary care and public health: (1) more funding for collaborations and for addressing the social determinants of health, (2) strong leadership to champion collaborations, (3) trust building among partners, with shared missions and clear expectations of responsibilities, and (4) alignment and standardization of data collection, analysis, and exchange.
Conclusions: Lessons learned from health centers should inform strategies to better integrate public health with primary care.