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Open Access Research article

Guidelines; from foe to friend? Comparative interviews with GPs in Norway and Denmark

Benedicte Carlsen1* and Pia K Kjellberg2

Author Affiliations

1 The Rokkan Centre, University Research, Nygaardsgt 5, 5015 Bergen, Norway

2 Danish Institute for Health Services Research, Dampfaergevej, Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:17  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-17

Published: 16 January 2010



GPs follow clinical guidelines to varying degrees across practices, regions and countries, but a review study of GPs' attitudes to guidelines found no systematic variation in attitudes between studies from different countries. However, earlier qualitative studies on this topic are not necessarily comparable. Hence, there is a lack of empirical comparative studies of GP's attitudes to following clinical guidelines. In this study we reproduce a Norwegian focus group study of GPs' general attitudes to national clinical guidelines in Denmark and conduct a comparative analysis of the findings.


A strategic sample of GP's in Norway (27 GPs) and Denmark (18 GPs) was interviewed about their attitudes to guidelines, and the interviews coded and compared for common themes and differences.


Similarities dominated the comparative material, but the analysis also revealed notable differences in attitudes between Norwegian and the Danish GPs. The most important difference was related to GP's attitudes to clinical guidelines that incorporated economic evaluations. While the Norwegian GPs were sceptical to guidelines that incorporated economic evaluation, the Danish GPs regarded these guidelines as important and legitimate. We suggest that the differences could be explained by the history of guideline development in Norway and Denmark respectively. Whereas government guidelines for rationing services were only newly introduced in Norway, they have been used in Denmark for many years.


Comparative qualitative studies of GPs attitudes to clinical guidelines may reveal cross-national differences relating to the varying histories of guideline development. Further studies are needed to explore this hypothesis.