Background: The World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca) defined core characteristics of general practice and general practitioners' competencies. It is unclear to which extent research has addressed these issues so far.
Objective: To determine themes and research methods of general practice research as reflected by presentations at the European General Practice Research Network (EGPRN) meetings.
Methods: Descriptive and retrospective study. All abstracts presented at each of the 14 EGPRN conferences between June 2001 and October 2007 were analysed for content and study design/methodology. Categories for content were developed inductively; a predefined hierarchical scheme was used for study designs.
Results: A total of N=614 abstracts were classified. The main research topics were related to GP/health service issues (n=232), clinical (n=148) and patient-related themes (n=118). Original data (n=558) were mainly derived from cross-sectional designs (38.7%). Intervention studies (11.0%), longitudinal designs including case-control and cohort studies (13.3%) as well as instrumental research (2.2%) were less common. More than one-fourth of all original studies were qualitative studies (27.6%). Stratified analysis revealed that cross-sectional designs were less frequent in the second half of conferences. Analysis by country showed that, in contrast to different quantitative designs, the proportion of qualitative studies was comparable.
Conclusions: To test effectiveness of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions under primary care conditions, a higher proportion of experimental studies would be preferable. This could increase the acceptance of general practitioners' specific approaches and provide clear guidance on approaches and procedures, especially in health care systems not predominantly based on primary care.