Primary care epidemiology

Philip Christopher Hannaford, Blair Hamilton Smith, Alison Margaret Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Clinical epidemiology is a basic science of medical practice; informing, among other things, diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic decisions relating to individuals.1 In the 1980s, Mullan coined the term ‘primary care epidemiology’ to describe the application of clinical epidemiology to primary care practice.2 Calls for a new discipline derived from the desire of Mullan, and others, to see an increased use of epidemiological principles to shape the development of community orientated primary care.2,–,4 To a large extent, these ambitions echoed those of Tudor Hart, who, a decade earlier, had called for a marriage between primary care and epidemiology so that programmes of organised, whole-population anticipatory care could be developed.5 They also built upon the work of other GP researchers who used epidemiological principles to describe clinical events in their practices.6,–,8 The emphasis on affecting the dynamics of health care within defined (usually single practice) communities required short intervals between the seeking and using of information, with an acknowledged consequence that primary care epidemiology might only be able to answer relatively basic questions.3 We believe, however, that this focus is too narrow for the sector that provides ‘integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practising in the context of family and community’.9 Primary care epidemiology can contribute to wider improvements in health and health care services, through better understanding of disease aetiology, use of health care services and the role of different health care interventions. Primary care is delivered by a wide range of health professionals, including nurses, doctors, care assistants, social workers, mental health specialists, dieticians, pharmacists, dentists, optometrists and other health care professionals, administrators and clerical staff. The practice of each of these professional groups can contribute to, and needs to be informed by, primary care epidemiology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalFamily Practice
Issue number1
Early online date6 Dec 2005
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2006


  • population-based intervention
  • oriented primary care
  • back-pain beliefs
  • general-practice
  • common symptoms
  • respiratory-tract
  • heart-disease
  • minor illness
  • community
  • health


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