Objectives: To explore general practitioners' views on chronic-disease care: the difficulties and rewards, the needs of patients, the impact of government incentive payments, and the changes needed to improve chronic-disease management. Design: Qualitative study, involving semi-structured questions administered to 10 focus groups of GPs, conducted from April to October 2002. Participants and setting: 54 GPs from both urban and rural practices in New South Wales and South Australia. Results: Consistent themes emerged about the complex nature of chronic-disease management, the tension between patients' and GPs' goals for care, the time-consuming aspects of care (exacerbated by federal government requirements), and the conflicting pressures that prevent GPs engaging in structured multidisciplinary care (ie, team-based care involving systems for patient monitoring, recall, and care planning). Conclusions: Structured multidisciplinary care for people with chronic conditions can be difficult to provide. Barriers include the lack of fit between systems oriented towards acute care and the requirements of chronic-disease care, and between bureaucratic, inflexible structures and the complex, dynamic nature of GP-patient relationships. These problems are exacerbated by administrative pressures associated with federal government initiatives to improve chronic-illness management. Changes are needed in both policies and attitudes to enable GPs to move from episodic care to providing structured long-term care as part of a multidisciplinary team.