Seeing the same doctor for a long time may help keep older people out of the hospital, a new British study suggests.
Researchers from the Health Foundation in London analyzed about two years’ worth of medical records for more than 230,000 patients, aged 62 to 82, in England. They looked at how often the patients saw the same general practitioner (continuity of care) and how that affected their risk of hospitalization.
Compared to those with low continuity of care, rates of hospital admissions were 9 percent lower among those with medium continuity of care. Admission rates were 12 percent lower in those with high continuity of care, wrote study author Creina Lilburne and colleagues.
While no firm conclusions about cause and effect can be made from the study, “strategies to improve the continuity of care in general practice may reduce secondary care costs, particularly for the heaviest users of health care,” the study authors concluded.
The study also found that continuity of care tended to be lower among patients seen at larger medical practices.
High continuity of care might reduce hospitalizations because patients and doctors form a more effective and trusting relationship. Such relationships result in a better understanding of health problems and more appropriate care, the researchers theorized.
The study was published online Feb. 1 in the journal BMJ.
There’s growing evidence about the importance of continuity of primary care, University of Bristol researchers wrote in an accompanying editorial.
There should be “further policy initiatives to promote it and more support for general practices to help them improve it,” wrote Peter Tammes, a senior research associate, and Chris Salisbury, a professor of primary health care.
Not only would it benefit patients, it would improve doctors’ job satisfaction and likely reduce pressure on hospitals, they concluded.
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality explains how to be more involved in your healthcare.