Patients value continuity of care from their GP and it is vital that policy changes do not jeopardise this relationship, say UK researchers.
All patients value the continuity of care provided by their GP, and are less trusting if they see different GPs at each consultation, according to a survey of 279 primary care patients in Leicestershire.
It showed that 77 per cent of patients who knew they would see their usual GP had a lot of trust in their doctor.
But this fell to just 52 per cent in patients waiting to see a GP they had not been to before.
Patients also trusted their GP if they were specifically asked to go back to the same doctor for the next consultation and if they knew there would be follow-up to ensure they had complied with treatment and advice.
In-depth interviews with 20 patients showed that while they had a general trust of all GPs, a number of consultations with the same GP reinforced this trust.
Similarly, interviews with 12 GPs in the area showed that the profession regards continuity of care as vital if patients are to disclose sensitive information to their GP.
Additionally, GPs feel more able to act in patients' best interests if there was a trusting relationship.
Lead researcher Dr Carolyn Tarrant, from the department of health sciences at Leicester University, who carried out the research for her PhD, said: 'My study shows that you need to look at the quality of the relationship and the anticipation of it continuing in the future.'
Continuity of care means 'patients are more willing to disclose information and take on the GP's advice', she added.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'Continuity of care is valued by patients and is very important for their long-term care as well.'
The creation of polyclinics as advocated by health minister Lord Ari Darzi is a risk to continuity of care because they are likely to attract salaried GPs who use the job as a stepping stone and move on quickly, he said.
'One of the issues about extended hours is that if you spread a GP's time more thinly it has an adverse impact on continuity of care,' added Dr Vautrey.
Continuity of care
- 77 per cent of patients who knew they would see their usual GP had a lot of trust in their doctor.
- Only 52 per cent of patients waiting to see a GP they had not been to before had a lot of trust.
- GPs regard continuity of care as vital if patients are to disclose sensitive information.
- GPs feel more able to act in patients' best interests if there is a trusting relationship.
Source: Leicester University.