Patients who see the same doctor over time have lower death rates, a study suggests.
The research, from St Leonard’s Practice in Exeter and the University of Exeter Medical School, found that repeated patient-doctor contact is linked to fewer deaths.
The effect applied across different cultures and was true not just for family doctors, but for specialists including psychiatrists and surgeons as well.
The review analysed the results of 22 eligible high-quality studies with varying time frames. The studies were from nine countries with very different cultures and health systems.
Of those, 18 (82%) found that repeated contact with the same doctor over time meant significantly fewer deaths over the study periods compared with those without continuity.
Sir Denis Pereira Gray, of St Leonard’s Practice, said until now arranging for patients to see the doctor of their choice has been considered a matter of convenience, whereas the study shows it “is literally a matter of life and death”.
Professor Philip Evans, of the University of Exeter Medical School, argued that 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,” he added.
Kamila Hawthorne, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said delivering continuity of care for patients is something GPs strive to do and 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,” Hawthorne added.