Objective: To identify associations between various cultural and demographic factors and patients' primary health care preferences.
Search strategy: Searches were performed in MEDLINE (1966-December 2000), PsycINFO (1977-May 2001) and Sociological Abstracts (1963-December 2000). Identified papers were checked for more papers.
Inclusion criteria: Studies with a focus on primary health care or health care in general, asking patients about preferences with regard to health care, reporting quantitative results and examining the relations between specific patient characteristics and patient preferences.
Data extraction and synthesis: Data were extracted from studies using a scoring form to register what methods were used, which patient characteristics were analysed and which patient characteristics significantly influenced patients' preferences with regard to different aspects of health care (P < 0.05).
Main results: A total of 145 studies were included with 2276 comparisons between subgroups of patients. Of all the comparisons, 607 (27%) showed a significant association between patient characteristics and preferences with regard to primary health care. Age and economic status significantly related to patient preferences in 38 and 33% of the comparisons, respectively. Education, health status, family situation, sex, and utilization of health care related significantly to patient preferences in less than 25% of the comparisons.
Conclusions: This review of the literature showed patient characteristics to be an important determinant of preferences regarding many aspects of primary health care defined as general practice care or health care, in general. All of the patient characteristics examined here showed at least some significant associations with preferences for primary health care.