OBJECTIVE--To evaluate audit and case finding (whole population care) in a community over 25 years. DESIGN--Contemporary screening for and audits of care of chronic disease and risk factors; retrospective review of computerised practice records; and comparisons of mortality and social indices with neighbouring communities. SETTING--One general practice in Glyncorrwg, West Glamorgan. SUBJECTS--1800 people registered with the practice in 1987 and 558 people who died from 1964 to 1987, whose records had been retained. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Detection of high blood pressure, smoking, airways obstruction, obesity, diabetes, and alcohol problems in adults aged 20-79; prevalence of smoking in this population and in hypertensive and diabetic groups; age standardised mortality ratios in relation to indices of social deprivation. RESULTS--In the population aged 20-79 (1207 patients) 249 (21%) had peak expiratory flow rate less than 50% of expected value or which improved by 15% or more with an inhaled beta agonist, 207 (17%) had body mass index at or over 30 kg/m2, 118 (10%) had untreated mean arterial pressures greater than 159/104 mm Hg (three readings), 80 (7%) (65 (16%) men, 15 (4%) women) had recognised alcohol problems, and 35 (3%) had diabetes. The proportion of men aged 20-64 who said they smoked fell from 61% (290/476) in 1968-70 to 36% (162/456) in 1985 whereas that of women who smoked was unchanged (43%, 187/436 v 42%, 190/448 respectively). In 116 screened hypertensive patients group mean blood pressure fell from 186/110 mm Hg before treatment to 146/84 mm Hg at 1987 audit, as did the proportion of smokers (56% v 20%), but body mass index and total cholesterol concentration showed no significant change. In 34 diabetic patients mean blood pressure and the proportion of smokers fell (171/93 mm Hg v 155/81 mm Hg; 44% v 12%). The age standardised mortality ratio in 1981-6 was lower than in a neighbouring village without a developed case finding programme (actual to expected deaths less than 65 = 21 to 22 in Glyncorrwg, 48 to 30 in control village). CONCLUSIONS--Whole population care through organised case finding and audit is feasible but only with a labour intensive approach combining accessibility, flexibility, and continuity, as well as a planned and structured approach, which requires substantial expansion of staff numbers and assiduous recording. It may reduce risks for at least some high risk groups. Despite their shortcomings the available data are consistent with the hypothesis that whole population care helps reduce mortality. Incentives in the new contract, which encourage the uncritical development of structured process, may diminish health outputs.