Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Primary prevention in general practice – views of German general practitioners: a mixed-methods study

Christine Holmberg12*, Giselle Sarganas1, Nadine Mittring2, Vittoria Braun3, Lorena Dini3, Christoph Heintze3, Nina Rieckmann1, Rebecca Muckelbauer1 and Jacqueline Müller-Nordhorn1

Author Affiliations

1 Berlin School of Public Health, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Seestr. 73, 13347 Berlin, Germany

2 Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Economics, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Luisenstr. 57, Berlin 10117, Germany

3 Institute of General Practice, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Chariteplatz 1, Berlin 10117, Germany

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BMC Family Practice 2014, 15:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-103

Published: 25 May 2014



Policy efforts focus on a reorientation of health care systems towards primary prevention. To guide such efforts, we analyzed the role of primary prevention in general practice and general practitioners’ (GPs) attitudes toward primary prevention.


Mixed-method study including a cross-sectional survey of all community-based GPs and focus groups in a sample of GPs who collaborated with the Institute of General Practice in Berlin, Germany in 2011. Of 1168 GPs 474 returned the mail survey. Fifteen GPs participated in focus group discussions. Survey and interview guidelines were developed and tested to assess and discuss beliefs, attitudes, and practices regarding primary prevention.


Most respondents considered primary prevention within their realm of responsibility (70%). Primary prevention, especially physical activity, healthy eating, and smoking cessation, was part of the GPs’ health care recommendations if they thought it was indicated. Still a quarter of survey respondents discussed reduction of alcohol consumption with their patients infrequently even when they thought it was indicated. Similarly 18% claimed that they discuss smoking cessation only sometimes. The focus groups revealed that GPs were concerned about the detrimental effects an uninvited health behavior suggestion could have on patients and were hesitant to take on the role of “health policing”. GPs saw primary prevention as the responsibility of multiple actors in a network of societal and municipal institutions.


The mixed-method study showed that primary prevention approaches such as lifestyle counseling is not well established in primary care. GPs used a selective approach to offer preventive advice based upon indication. GPs had a strong sense that a universal prevention approach carried the potential to destroy a good patient-physician relationship. Other approaches to public health may be warranted such as a multisectoral approach to population health. This type of restructuring of the health care sector may benefit patients who are unable to afford specific prevention programmes and who have competing demands that hinder their ability to focus on behavior change.

General practice; Primary prevention; Physician-patient relationship