Background: The municipalities are responsible for the emergency primary health care services in Norway. These services include casualty clinics, primary doctors on-call and local emergency medical communication centres (LEMC). The National centre for emergency primary health care has initiated an enterprise called "The Watchtowers", comprising emergency primary health care districts, to provide routine information (patients' way of contact, level of urgency and first action taken by the out-of-hours services) over several years based on a minimal dataset. This will enable monitoring, evaluation and comparison of the respective activities in the emergency primary health care services. The aim of this study was to assess incidence of emergency contacts (potential life-threatening situations, red responses) to the emergency primary health care service.
Methods: A representative sample of Norwegian emergency primary health care districts, "The Watchtowers" recorded all contacts and first action taken during the year of 2007. All the variables were continuously registered in a data program by the attending nurses and sent by email to the National Centre for Emergency Primary Health Care at a monthly basis.
Results: During 2007 the Watchtowers registered 85 288 contacts, of which 1 946 (2.3%) were defined as emergency contacts (red responses), corresponding to a rate of 9 per 1 000 inhabitants per year. 65% of the instances were initiated by patient, next of kin or health personnel by calling local emergency medical communication centres or meeting directly at the casualty clinics. In 48% of the red responses, the first action taken was a call-out of doctor and ambulance. On a national basis we can estimate approximately 42 500 red responses per year in the EPH in Norway.
Conclusion: The emergency primary health care services constitute an important part of the emergency system in Norway. Patients call the LEMC or meet directly at casualty clinics with medical problems that initially are classified as a potentially life-threatening situation, a red response.