General practice can be defined as that medical discipline which provides 'community-based, continuing, comprehensive, preventive primary care', sometimes referred to as the CCCP model. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) uses the following definitions of general practice and primary care:

General practice is that component of the health care system which provides initial, continuing, comprehensive and co-ordinated medical care for all individuals, families and communities and which integrates current biomedical, psychological and social understandings of health. General practitioner is a medical practitioner with recognised generalist training, experience and skills, who provides and co-ordinates comprehensive medical care for individuals, families and communities. Primary care involves the ability to take responsible action on any problem the patient presents, whether or not it forms part of an ongoing doctor-patient relationship. In managing the patient, the general/family practitioner may make appropriate referral to other doctors, health care professionals and community services. General/family practice is the point of first contact for the majority of people seeking health care. In the provision of primary care, much ill-defined illness is seen; the general/family practitioner often deals with problem complexes rather than with established diseases. The practitioner must be able to make a total assessment of the person's condition without subjecting the person to unnecessary investigations, procedure and treatment.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) 1 and the American Board of Family Practice (ABFP) have defined family practice as:

... the medical specialty that provides continuing and comprehensive health care for the individual and the family. It is the specialty in breadth that integrates the biological, clinical and behavioural sciences. The scope of family practice encompasses all ages, both sexes, each organ system and disease entity.

The AAFP has emphasised that the primary objective of the specialty of family practice is to deliver primary health care, described as:

... a form of medical care delivery that emphasises first contact care and assumes ongoing responsibility for the patient in both health maintenance and therapy of illness. It is personal care involving a unique interaction and communication between the patient and the physician. It is comprehensive in scope and includes the overall co-ordination of care of the patient's health problems, be they biological, behavioural or social. The appropriate use of consultants and community resources is an important part of effective primary care.

The AAFP has expanded on the function of delivery of primary health care. 1 2

Primary care is a form of delivery of medical care that encompasses the following functions:

1. It is 'first-contact' care, serving as a point-of-entry for patients into the health care system.

2. It includes continuity by virtue of caring for patients over a period of time, both in sickness and in health.

3. It is comprehensive care, drawing from all the traditional major disciplines for its functional content.

4. It serves a co-ordinative function for all the health care needs of the patient.

5. It assumes continuing responsibility for individual patient follow-up and community health problems; and

6. It is a highly personalised type of care.

Pereira Gray 3 identifies six principles—primary care, family care, domiciliary care and continuing care —all designed to achieve preventive and personal care. 'We see the patient as a whole person and this involves breadth of knowledge about each person, not just depth of disease.' General practice is not the summation of specialties practised at a superficial level and we must avoid the temptation to become 'specialoids'. In the current climate where medicine is often fragmented there is a greater than ever need for the generalist. The patient requires a trusted focal point in the often bewildering health service jungle. Who is to do this better than the caring family doctor taking full responsibility for the welfare of the patient and intervening on his or her behalf? Specialists also need highly competent generalists to whom they can entrust ongoing care.

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