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Patients who are able to see the same GP have lower death risk, study finds

Policy makers should prioritise GP continuity of care to reduce patient mortality, researchers have said.

Death rates were significantly lower when patients were able to consistently see the same GP over time, the study concluded.

The review, conducted by researchers from St Leonard’s practice in Exeter and the University of Exeter medical school, looked at continuity of care in both primary and secondary care settings. It included 22 separate studies investigating continuity of care that reported all-cause mortality rates in the study cohorts.

The researchers found that over 80% of the included studies reported a significant association between continuity of care and lower mortality. And they noted that the studies were carried out across nine different countries, suggesting that the benefits of continuity of care apply across cultures.

They said in the paper: ‘The policy implication, as many studies noted, is prioritising continuity of care. For 200 years, medical advances have been mainly technical and impersonal which has reduced attention to the human side of medicine.

‘This systematic review reveals that despite numerous technical advances, continuity of care is an important feature of medical practice, and potentially a matter of life and death.’

The findings come as continuity of care has been in severe decline recently, with data showing that the number of patients who were able to see their preferred GP fell by almost a third between 2012 and 2017.

A study published in the BJGP earlier this month found that patients value the quality of attention and communication that they receive from their GP over extended access. 

Another recent study found that emergency admissions to hospital reduce when older patients see a ‘regular GP’

And GP experts have previously urged the Government to rethink its policy of extending GP opening, which is more likely to mean seeing a different GP, as it is unlikely to reduce A&E attendances.

BMJ Open 2018; available online 29th June