Intended for healthcare professionals

General Practice

General practice—time for a new definition

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 05 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:354
  1. Frede Olesen, professor (,
  2. Jim Dickinson, professorb,
  3. Per Hjortdahl, professorc
  1. a Research Unit for General Practice, University of Aarhus, Vennelyst Boulevard 6, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
  2. b Department of Community and Family Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  3. c Department of Community and Family Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to: F Olesen
  • Accepted 11 November 1999

Editorial by Heath and others

After some 30 years of medical development focusing largely on hospitals, organ specialisation, and high technology, the 1960s saw the revitalisation of general practice (in some countries known as family practice—see note at the end of the article), allowing this field of medicine to develop into a cornerstone of the healthcare system. At the end of the millennium academic general practice is now established in all developed countries. General practice is recognised as a special discipline and in many countries as a medical specialty equally important as and complementary to other specialties. Participation in specific training programmes has therefore become mandatory for anyone who wishes to become a specialist in this field.

The time has come to reflect on the education of general practitioners, which depends on the scientific content of general practice. A proper starting point is to consider the ideal content of the discipline as it would be described in a definition.

Summary points

It is time to create a new definition of general practice based on the ideal content of the specialty

Any new definition should describe the core content and function of general practice and should supplement the description of the medical discipline

It should also be universal, not country specific

It should provide a framework for teaching and training and describe where to find evidence to support science based work

A new proposed definition fulfils these criteria, emphasising the need for general practitioners to be able to take a biomedical, psychological, and social approach to patients and their problems

Old definitions of general practice

Many definitions of primary care and general practice have been proposed.1-5One of the most frequently quoted is the Leeuwenhorst definition from 1974: “The general practitioner is a licensed medical graduate who gives personal, primary and continuing care to individuals, families and …

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