Relationship based care - how general practice developed and why it is undermined within contemporary healthcare systems

Scand J Prim Health Care. 2019 Sep;37(3):335-344. doi: 10.1080/02813432.2019.1639909. Epub 2019 Jul 12.


Objective: Investigating the state of generalism in medicine from the outlook of general practice. Line of argument: General practice developed when its pioneers, in continuing relationships, learnt to know their patients through the variety of medical situations. From the 50s, there is an increasing literature on the virtues and challenges of relationship based general practice, and register-based research indicate its benefits. Generalist perspectives and person-centeredness are implemented in specialised care and medical education but need to be complemented by an input from relationship based general practice. The politically defined aim of primary care is not to balance the draw-backs of specialisation, but to provide medicine at the primary care level. In Sweden, and increasingly even in traditional strongholds of general practice, team-based primary care is thought to respond to increasing demands, filtering out non- and minor disease through triage, practicing task distribution, and moving the GP to a secondary level working with the 'really sick', in all a decline in direct contact between patient and GP. Conclusions: When this happens, clinical medicine as a whole becomes drained of the practice of its human dimension. The lack of absolute proof of medical benefits cannot justify a disregard of the value of mutual knowledge and trust in the relationship, but still, in several countries, relationshipbased general practice will be hard to achieve for GPs planning their career. If the political winds should change, a sustaining profession of GPs preserving their relational ethos inside the team model, may be prepared to reform primary care. KEY POINTS Proclaiming both biomedical breadth and the trustful relationship between doctor and patient, as a specialty, general practice embodies medical generalism. A direct input from the patient's personal GP is necessary to make specialised care become more comprehensive and individualised. In reality, the team, practicing triage and task distribution, is increasingly replacing the doctor-patient relationship as working mode in primary care When the disease rather than the doctor-patient relationship, becomes the organising principle of primary care, medicine as a whole will be drained of the practice of its human dimension.

Keywords: Generalism; doctor-patient relationship; general practice; primary care; specialisation.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • General Practice*
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Patient-Centered Care*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Social Change
  • Specialization
  • Trust