Patients who stick with the same physician may live longer

Past research has shown patients are more satisfied and less likely to be admitted to the hospital when they consistently see the same primary care provider, but seeing the same physician could also help patients live longer, a study published in BMJ Open found.

"We had nine different countries on four different continents in all sorts of different health systems, so we don't think it's a local or cultural effect, we think it's a human effect," lead author Sir Denis Pereira Gray of St. Leonard's Practice in Exeter, U.K, told Reuters.

"We think it works in two ways. First of all, we think patients talk to doctors they know and trust more freely," even about embarrassing matters, Sir Denis said. "Then the doctor will have better understanding and better information and be able to tailor the advice he or she gives to the particular patient."

The researchers analyzed 22 studies including general physicians and specialists to determine how staying with the same physician, known as continuity of care, affects patient mortality.

Of the 22 studies, 18 found greater continuity of care was linked to lower mortality. Three of the studies found no association, and one study based on insurance claims data found higher continuity of care was linked to increased mortality.

"In the same study, higher levels of patient-reported continuity were associated with lower mortality rates," the researchers noted. "This emphasizes the interpersonal relationship between patient and doctor as claims-based measures only give numbers of contacts and do not directly measure the quality of the relationship."

Since the types of studies varied significantly, the researchers could not combine the data to quantify the how continuity of care affected mortality overall. But while continuity of care is frequently regarded as "a convenience, and not a medical issue," Sir Denis said, "We've now shown that it's a medical issue."

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