Does Seeing the Same Doctor Matter?

The fact is that we have very little data to show that continuity of care by the same doctor or the quality of the doctor-patient relationship improves outcomes.

By now you've probably read about how the electronic medical record can harm the doctor-patient relationship. But, you might be confused because some authors confuse apples with oranges i.e. confusing doctor-patient engagement, communication, and relationship.

Doctor-patient relationship experts note that:

Continuity of patient care is one of the defining characteristics of general practice. It is a multifaceted concept, but in primary care it is “mainly viewed as the relationship between a single practitioner and a patient that extends beyond specific episodes of illness or disease.” Research has consistently linked continuity with patient satisfaction, but evidence of its impact on patient outcomes is mixed.

Engagement pros have different definitions as well but most agree that it means giving the patient the tools to participate in their treatment decisions, if they so choose.

Then there is communication. In fact, one of the biggest gripes patients have about their doctors is that clinicians use terms patients don't understand or they don't spend enough time explaining things.

The fact is that we have very little data to show that continuity of care by the same doctor or the quality of the doctor-patient relationship improves outcomes. Defining the criteria we apply to measure the doctor-patient relationship will help us better understand whether it makes a difference of not.

Until then, we continue to operate under a longstanding hypothesis that it does, spending billions of dollars in an IT arms race to the top. The fact is, though, that seeing the same doctor might make no difference at all. Good thing, too, because, particularly for those admitted to a hospital, very few will.