Objectives: To understand the concerns and challenges faced by general practitioners (GPs) and respiratory physicians about primary care management of acute exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Design: 21 focus group discussions (FGDs) were performed in seven countries with a Grounded Theory approach. Each country performed three rounds of FGDs. Setting: Primary and secondary care in Norway, Germany, Wales, Poland, Russia, The Netherlands, China (Hong Kong). Participants: 142 GPs and respiratory physicians were chosen to include urban and rural GPs as well as hospital-based and out patient-clinic respiratory physicians. Results: Management of acute COPD exacerbations is dealt with within a scope of concerns. These concerns range from 'dealing with comorbidity' through 'having difficult patients' to 'confronting a hopeless disease'. The first concern displays medical uncertainty regarding diagnosis, medication and hospitalisation. These clinical processes become blurred by comorbidity and the social context of the patient. The second concern shows how patients receive the label 'difficult' exactly because they need complex attention, but even more because they are time consuming, do not take responsibility and are non-compliant. The third concern relates to the emotional reactions by the physicians when confronted with 'a hopeless disease' due to the fact that most of the patients do not improve and the treatment slows down the process at best. GPs and respiratory physicians balance these concerns with medical knowledge and practical, situational knowledge, trying to encompass the complexity of a medical condition. Conclusions: Knowing the patient is essential when dealing with comorbidities as well as with difficult relations in the consultations on exacerbations. This study suggests that it is crucial to improve the collaboration between primary and secondary care, in terms of, for example, shared consultations and defined work tasks, which may enhance shared knowledge of patients, medical decision-making and improved management planning.