General Practice and Primary Health Care in Denmark

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Abstract

General practice is the corner stone of Danish primary health care. General practitioners (GPs) are similar to family physicians in the United States. On average, all Danes have 6.9 contacts per year with their GP (in-person, telephone, or E-mail consultation). General practice is characterized by 5 key components: (1) a list system, with an average of close to 1600 persons on the list of a typical GP; (2) the GP as gatekeeper and first-line provider in the sense that a referral from a GP is required for most office-based specialists and always for in- and outpatient hospital treatment; (3) an after-hours system staffed by GPs on a rota basis; (4) a mixed capitation and fee-for-service system; and (5) GPs are self-employed, working on contract for the public funder based on a national agreement that details not only services and reimbursement but also opening hours and required postgraduate education. The contract is (re)negotiated every 2 years. General practice is embedded in a universal tax-funded health care system in which GP and hospital services are free at the point of use. The current system has evolved over the past century and has shown an ability to adapt flexibly to new challenges. Practice units are fairly small: close to 2 GPs per unit plus nurses and secretaries. The units are fully computerized, that is, with computer-based patient records and submission of prescriptions digitally to pharmacies etc. Over the past few years a decrease in solo practices has been seen and is expected to accelerate, in part because of the GP age structure, with many GPs retiring and new GPs not wanting to practice alone. This latter workforce trend is pointing toward a new model with employed GPs, particularly in rural areas.

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