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An exploratory study of the development of patient participation groups in general practice and general practitioners' attitudes towards them suggests that many general practitioners may not yet be aware of this innovation and may at first react negatively to the idea. This response stems in part from misconceptions about the origins and functions of these groups, a failure to see their relevance to professional objectives, and a fear that they will threaten general practitioners' autonomy and status. In contrast, general practitioners who have formed groups believe they have an important contribution to make to their developing role and have been encouraged by their experience so far. Therefore, at present, patient participation groups should neither be rejected out of hand, nor welcomed as a panacea.