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Open Access Research article

Sixteen years of ICPC use in Norwegian primary care: looking through the facts

Taxiarchis Botsis1*, Carl-Fredrik Bassøe24 and Gunnar Hartvigsen13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway

2 Norwegian Centre for Electronic Medical Records, Institute of Neuromedicine, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7489 Trondheim, Norway

3 Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine, University Hospital of North-Norway, 9038 Tromsø, Norway

4 Current address: Lyngveien 14b, 5101 Eidsvaagneset, Bergen, Norway

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2010, 10:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-10-11

Published: 24 February 2010



The International Classification for Primary Care (ICPC) standard aims to facilitate simultaneous and longitudinal comparisons of clinical primary care practice within and across country borders; it is also used for administrative purposes. This study evaluates the use of the original ICPC-1 and the more complete ICPC-2 Norwegian versions in electronic patient records.


We performed a retrospective study of approximately 1.5 million ICPC codes and diagnoses that were collected over a 16-year period at 12 primary care sites in Norway. In the first phase of this period (transition phase, 1992-1999) physicians were allowed to not use an ICPC code in their practice while in the second phase (regular phase, 2000-2008) the use of an ICPC code was mandatory. The ICPC codes and diagnoses defined a problem event for each patient in the PROblem-oriented electronic MEDical record (PROMED). The main outcome measure of our analysis was the percentage of problem events in PROMEDs with inappropriate (or missing) ICPC codes and of diagnoses that did not map the latest ICPC-2 classification. Specific problem areas (pneumonia, anaemia, tonsillitis and diabetes) were examined in the same context.


Codes were missing in 6.2% of the problem events; incorrect codes were observed in 4.0% of the problem events and text mismatch between the diagnoses and the expected ICPC-2 diagnoses text in 53.8% of the problem events. Missing codes were observed only during the transition phase while incorrect and inappropriate codes were used all over the 16-year period. The physicians created diagnoses that did not exist in ICPC. These 'new' diagnoses were used with varying frequency; many of them were used only once. Inappropriate ICPC-2 codes were also observed in the selected problem areas and for both phases.


Our results strongly suggest that physicians did not adhere to the ICPC standard due to its incompleteness, i.e. lack of many clinically important diagnoses. This indicates that ICPC is inappropriate for the classification of problem events and the clinical practice in primary care.