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Relationship continuity: When and why do primary care patients think it is safer?

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Background Doctor-patient continuity is popular with patients and practitioners, and is associated with better outcomes; however, changes in policy and practice organisation have diminished its scope. Although there has been some discussion of safety implications from professionals' perspective, patients' views remain largely unexplored. Aim To explore patients' understanding of safety in primary care. Design and setting An interview-based study with patients from general practices in the northwest of England. Method Patients were recruited from five general practices through patient participation groups and posters in waiting rooms, with further participants recruited through snowballing techniques until no new themes emerged. In-depth interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed. Anonymised transcripts were coded and analysed inductively. Emergent themes were discussed by the team. Results For patients, relationship continuity was not simply a matter of service quality but an important safety concern that offered greater psychosocial security than consultations with unfamiliar GPs. Relationship continuity enabled the GP to become a repository of information; acquire specialist knowledge of a patient's condition; become familiar with the patient's consulting behaviour; provide holistic care; and foster the development of trust. Patients were also aware of the risks: a false sense of security and lack of a fresh perspective. Their desire for continuity varied with the nature of their concerns, psychological vulnerability, and perception of GPs' qualities and skills. No one supported a return to imposed continuity. Conclusion Relationship continuity and choice of GP were important safety strategies, neither of which is adequately supported by recent policy changes.




Rhodes, P., Sanders, C., & Campbell, S. (2014). Relationship continuity: When and why do primary care patients think it is safer? British Journal of General Practice, 64(629), e758–e764.

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