Seeing the same GP over several years is vital to help patients live longer and stay out of hospital, a major study has found.
Having the same doctor for at least 15 years slashes the risk of dying within 12 months by a quarter compared with people who have known their GP for less than a year.
And building a long-lasting relationship with doctors reduces the risk of hospitalisation for several illnesses including heart disease and diabetes, the research published last night in the British Journal of General Practice revealed.
Patients who had the same GP for 15 years or more were 30 per cent less likely to need out-of-hours health services and 28 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital. And the benefits increase the longer a patient has known their doctor, according to Norwegian scientists behind the research.
Lead author Professor Hogne Sandvik, from the University of Bergen, said being treated by a doctor you know can be ‘life-saving’ – possibly because patients feel safer and find it easier to navigate the system.
‘If you lose a general practitioner you’ve had for more than 15 years, your risk of needing acute admission to hospital or dying increases considerably the following year.’
Experts believe this protective effect could be because patients build up trust with a single GP, they do not have to repeat their story, they feel safe talking to the same doctor and they have an easier time navigating the health system.
Having the same doctor for at least 15 years slashes the risk of dying within 12 months by a quarter compared with people who have known their GP for less than a year, a study has found [Stock image]
The findings will add to fears that the shift to remote consultations – which are often conducted by a different doctor each time, is damaging patients.
Last night the Royal College of GPs acknowledged it is becoming ‘increasingly difficult’ for patients to see the same GP consistently, and NHS data shows the traditional family doctor is becoming a thing of the past.
Only 45 per cent of patients in England regularly see the GP of their choice – down from 65 per cent a decade ago, according to the 2021 NHS patient survey.
The new study was based on data from around five million patients in Norway, which has a similar GP system to the UK. Researchers looked at the length of time they had been registered with the same GP, comparing this to rates of hospital admissions and deaths in 2018.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Continuity of care is highly valued by patients and GPs and our teams alike. It is what allows us to build relationships with our patients, often over time, and this study builds the strong evidence base of its benefits for patients and the NHS.
The study’s findings will add to fears that the shift to remote consultations – which are often conducted by a different doctor each time, is damaging patients [Stock image]
‘Delivering continuity of care is becoming increasingly difficult as GPs and our teams struggle to deal with intense workload and workforce pressures – and the need to prioritise access to GP services. However, GP teams strive to deliver continuity of care in innovative ways, such as working to build trusting relationships between different members of the practice team, not just the GP.
‘General practice urgently needs more GPs and more members of the practice team, but we also need more time with patients, so that we can build the strong and trusting relationships with patients that both patients and GP team members value.
‘This is why the College has long been calling for 15-minute appointments, at least, to be standard in general practice – but offering longer appointments means offering fewer, and swift access to services is already strained.
‘Not all patients value continuity of care – but many, particularly those with complex health needs, do and this study demonstrates that it’s essential continuity of care remains at the forefront of general practice. But this will require greater numbers of GPs and other clinicians working in general practice, so that we can spend more time with patients.
‘The Government needs to make good on its promise of 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 more members of the practice team – as well as introducing measures to tackle ‘undoable’ workload in general practice, so that we can deliver the care patients value and need.’
Source: Health & wellbeing | The Guardian