Objective: To identify and describe the core characteristics and the spread of quality circles in primary healthcare in European countries. Design: An online survey was conducted among European Society for Quality and Safety in Family Practice (EQuiP) delegates. To allow comparison with earlier results, a similar survey as in a study from 2000 was used. Setting: Primary Health Care in European countries. Subjects: General practitioners, delegated experts of the European Society for Quality and Safety in Family Practice (EQuiP). Main outcome measures: (1) Attendance in quality circles (2) their objectives (3) methods of quality improvement quality circles use (4) facilitator's role and training (5) role of institutions (6) supporting material and data sources quality circles use. Results: 76% of the delegates responded, representing 24 of 25 countries. In 13 countries, more than 10% of general practitioners participated in quality circles, compared with eight countries in 2000. The focus of quality circles moved from continuous medical education to quality improvement. Currently, quality circles groups use case-based discussions, educational materials and local opinion leaders in addition to audit and feedback. Some national institutions provide training for facilitators and data support for quality circle groups. Conclusion: The use of quality circles has increased in European countries with a shift in focus from continuous medical education to quality improvement. Well-trained facilitators are important, as is the use of varying didactic methods and quality improvement tools. Qualitative inquiry is necessary to examine why QCs thrive or fail in different countries and systems. KEY POINTS Countries with already established quality circle movements increased their participation rate and extended their range of quality circle activities The focus of quality circles has moved from CME/CPD to quality improvement Well-trained facilitators are important, as is the use of varying didactic methods and quality improvement tools Institutions should provide supporting material and training for facilitators.