LONDON—Many people swear by the wisdom of always going to the same family doctor who knows them inside and out.
Researchers have now proven them right, demonstrating that having the same doctor for life really is a matter of life and death.
Patients who see the same doctor over time have lower death rates, according to research published in the British Medical Journal.
“As medical technology and new treatments dominate the medical news, the human aspect of medical practice has been neglected,” said Philip Evans, a professor at the University of Exeter Medical School. “Our study shows it is potentially life-saving and should be prioritized.”
The study, across patients from nine countries with different cultures and health systems, showed that seeing only one family doctor cuts the risk of an early death by up to 53 percent.
Looking at 22 different studies, 18 of them found that repeated contact with the same doctor over time meant significantly fewer deaths.
“Patients have long known that it matters which doctor they see and how well they can communicate with them,” said Sir Denis Pereira Gray, former head of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who led the research.
“Until now, arranging for patients to see the doctor of their choice has been considered a matter of convenience or courtesy: now it is clear it is about the quality of medical practice and is literally ‘a matter of life and death.'”
With the National Health Service providing the vast majority of UK health care, continuity of medical treatment is something tackled at both a national and local policy level, as well as by individual doctors’ practices.
Kamila Hawthorne, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said in a statement that doctors are “facing intense resource and workforce pressures” so patients who want to see “their” GP may have to wait even longer for an appointment.