According to a comprehensive look at 22 different studies published since 2010, keeping the same doctor rather than switching between different ones has a noticeable effect on mortality rates.
This is known as continuity of care, and previous research has suggested that the benefits of this can include fewer hospital admissions and a higher adoption of vaccination programs for patients. Now, a lower risk of death can be added to the list.
The researchers found a similar trend across a number of studies from different countries, and between different types of doctors – whether specialists or general practitioners.
These findings underline the importance of patients being able to get the doctor that they want. Philip Evans, one of the researchers from the University of Exeter, says that continuity of care happens when a patient and a doctor see other repeatedly and get to know each other. This leads to better communication, patient satisfaction, adherence to medical advice, and much lower use of hospital services.”
Of the 22 studies examined, 18 showed a positive link between sticking with the same doctor and living longer – though they all differed in their scope and the way that the data was collected and presented.
The 22 studies covered nine different countries, and the median number of participant across them all was 16,855. 20 out of the 22 studies focused on all-cause mortality.
However, there are some limitations that need to be kept in mind: not all of the studies factored in the influence of other variables such as gender, age, or whether someone smoked or not. Furthermore, it’s also true that those who are in worse health for a long time usually end up seeing more doctors as a matter of course.
Still, considering the links that other research has found between continuity of care and improve health, and the wide scope of these new studies, it seems reasonable to conclude that keeping up a good relationship with one doctor can lower death rates.
Sir Denis Pereira Gray, from the St. Leonard’s Practice in the UK, says that “basically we are saying that at a time when the emphasis in the reports in the press are all about new machines and new technology, this is something that reveals that the human side of medicine is still very important.”
The researchers now want to see further studies carried out that look at the association they’ve discovered, and are keen to ensure that the human side of medicine doesn’t get forgotten about in the midst of exciting technical inventions.
According to the team, a strong relationship between patient and doctor means doctors becoming more knowledgeable about the people that they’re seeing, and patients become more comfortable about opening up.
As a result of this, treatment ends up being more personalized and patients become more likely to follow any advice that they’re given.
Gray goes on to says that “patients have long known that it matters which doctor they see and how well they can communicate with them, Until now, arranging for patients to see the doctor of their choice has been considered a matter of convenience or courtesy, but now it is clear that it is about the quality of medical practice and is literally a matter of life and death.”