Journal of Community Health

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 92–102

An empirical definition of “primary care”

  • Authors
  • Stephen Farrow
  • Wayne Harrison
  • Arnold Kaluzny
  • Kathryn Newsome
Research Reports

DOI: 10.1007/BF01318978

Cite this article as:
Farrow, S., Harrison, W., Kaluzny, A. et al. J Community Health (1980) 6: 92. doi:10.1007/BF01318978


An operational definition of “primary care”, useful to a wide variety of professionals, has eluded researchers since the term first gained popularity. This paper presents an activity-based definition of primary care derived from ratings of 59 representative health care activities by a group of state health administrators, a group of local health department directors, and a random sample of primary care physicians practicing in North Carolina. Thirty-one activities received ratings indicating they were considered core primary care services. Examination of differences in ratings among the three groups surveyed suggests that health department directors differ from the other two groups. Consideration of the variances of activity ratings within the groups emphasizes the unique response of the health department directors and identifies activities characterized by considerable disagreement.

The study includes information necessary for researchers and practitioners to form an activity-based definition of varying scope. Definitions constructed from this information should be useful in planning the evaluation efforts that involve different groups of providers, since activities provide an objective basis for agreement. Repeating the approach outlined in the paper with other provider groups in other areas of the country should lead to better understanding of intergroup and regional differences in the concept of “primary care”.

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1980