this study was an investigation of the proposition and development of health surveillance as an instrument or model of health. a literature search was conducted in lilacs and medline databases using the key words population's surveillance and primary health care. the literature indicated the existence of different propositions and terminologies for health surveillance which are used in epidemiology and territorial surveillance. there was emphasis on the use of health indicators, geoprocessing, and analysis of network of health surveillance agencies. health surveillance can be used to promote health, social control of information, and to evaluate health policies and its implementation.