This study discusses the physician-patient relationship under the Family Health Program (FHP) in Bahia State, Brazil. Assuming that the physician-patient relationship is influenced by macro and micro-contextual factors, we linked health surveillance and the ecological model of human development, both influenced by contextualism. The methodological strategies included: a census of FHP physicians in Bahia and direct observation of consultations by 20 physicians in three municipalities (counties). There were significant differences in the implementation of the FHP in the three municipalities, with an impact on the physician-patient relationship. As for orientation of clinical practice, health surveillance has not been incorporated by the physicians observed in this study. According to the micro-contextual analysis, health problems were frequently not treated in a contextualized way. FHP guidelines, when incorporated by the municipalities, produce differences in care as observed in the physician-patient relationship. The health surveillance approach, reported as a tool for collective work, proves efficient for describing, evaluating, and improving the FHP, and this study concludes that it is a powerful conceptual tool for dealing with the physician-patient relationship.