Lower death rates with patient continuity of care

A NEW study looking at continuity of care has concluded that patients who see the same doctor over time have lower death rates.

Researchers analysed the results of 22 "high quality" studies with varying time frames from nine countries and found that - in 18 (82 per cent) - there were statistically significant reductions in mortality with increased continuity of care. The effect applied across different cultures and was true for family doctors as well as for specialists, including psychiatrists and surgeons.

The study was a collaboration between St Leonard's Practice in Exeter and the University of Exeter Medical School and published in BMJ Open. Professor Philip Evans, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "Continuity of care happens when a patient and a doctor see each other repeatedly and get to know each other. This leads to better communication, patient satisfaction, adherence to medical advice and much lower use of hospital services.

"As medical technology and new treatments dominate the medical news, the human aspect of medical practice has been neglected. Our study shows it is potentially life-saving and should be prioritised."

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Vice Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented: "Delivering continuity of care for patients is something GPs strive to do - we know our patients want and value it, as GPs do, and we know that it is particularly beneficial for patients with chronic conditions, long-term mental health issues, and complex needs.

"But general practice is currently facing intense resource and workforce pressures, which is making it increasingly difficult for patients to access our services and unfortunately, waiting to see 'their' GP means patients may have to wait even longer for an appointment. Some are willing to do this but often they cannot wait and seeing another GP or health professional in the practice team can speed up access in some situations.

"Many GP practices across the country are using innovative approaches to retaining continuity of care, for example, a patient might be assigned to a team consisting of several GPs and other healthcare professionals in the practice, all of whom will have full access to their records, allowing them to see and build trusting relationships with the whole team, not just 'their' doctor.

"Balancing continuity of care with timely access to GP services is a huge challenge for general practice, and ultimately the answer is more GPs and more resources for the profession."

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