Background: General practice is increasingly expected to deliver population care to individual patients. The feasibility and ethics of this policy shift have been challenged.
Aim: Our aim is to suggest how to deliver population care while protecting personal care.
Methods: We outline and discuss concepts of these types of care, their relation to the prevailing discourse regarding intervention benefits, and arguments for individualized population care.
Results: Individualized population care can enable general practice to meet the health targets of individual patients in the light of population-based goals. It unifies the concepts of personal care and whole population care. Personal care focuses on the individual good in particular consultations. Whole population care focuses on the overall health good of a population without reference to the individuality of each population member. These types of care constitute elements of a continuum that varies in purpose and objects of focus. The limitations of a crude dichotomy of personal care and population care are made explicit in a series of five arguments that lend support to the concept of individualized population care.
Conclusions: We advocate a constructive but critical attitude towards the idea of population-based interventions in everyday general practice. Traditional personal care and whole population care can theoretically be integrated into individualized population care. However, this presupposes clinical-epidemiological expertise and moral awareness in practising clinicians.