Background

The  field
Primary care is the first level of professional care where people present their health problems and where the majority of the population’s curative and preventive health needs are satisfied. Therefore primary care services should be available close to where people are living with no obstacles to access. Primary care is generalist care, focused on the person in his or her social context, rather than on diseases. The mix of disciplines which make up the primary care workforce may differ from country to country, but general practice or family practice is considered as the core of primary care (Health Council of the Netherlands, 2004; Boerma and Dubois, 2006).

  
European  research
Scientific research, both international comparative and within the United States, has provided evidence on benefits of well developed primary care systems, in terms of better coordination and continuity of care and better opportunities to control costs (Shi et al., 2002; 2005 ; Macinko et al., 2003; Starfield, 1994; Delnoij et al., 2000; Health Council of the Netherlands, 2005).
However, since the relevance of some of this research for the European situation is limited, more in-depth analyses are needed to corroborate these findings. The variety of models of organisation and provision of health care services found in Europe, are favourable circumstances to undertake sound and comprehensive studies on the merits of primary care for health care systems in general. The rich diversity of regulatory mechanisms, funding schemes and modes of financial and non-financial incentives for providers as well as users of services makes Europe a laboratory for comparative research and a pool of good practices (Groenewegen et al., 2002).