Seeing the same doctor over time may just save your life, research finds

A doctor speaks to a patient as a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure meter, lies on his desk. (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)
A doctor speaks to a patient as a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure meter, lies on his desk. (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Previous studies have suggested that a bond between a patient and his or her doctor helps improve the level of care and also the level of trust between the two parties. Not only does the patient grow to trust the doctor and the prognosis, but the doctor learns to listen to the patient’s needs and weed out any WebMD self-diagnosis.

Now, a new study shows that the relationship between doctor and patient may even reduce the risk of death.

The study, conducted by St Leonard’s Practice in Exeter and the University of Exeter Medical School, published in BMJ Open, shows that patients who see the same doctor over time have lower death rates.

Sir Denis Pereira Gray, the first author of the research from St Leonard’s Practice, Exeter, suggests that the “human side of medicine” is an essential factor in care, as opposed to simply relying on new machines and technology.

Gray and his team analyzed 22 studies that included data on whether patients saw the same doctor and their mortality. The studies were from nine countries with very different cultures and health systems, but the team found that 18 out of the 22 studies showed that with continuous care with the same doctor over time, there was a lower death rate among patients.

“This phenomenon applies to specialists as well as generalist doctors,” said Gray. “We have found articles which include surgeons and psychiatrists, so we think this is a human effect that goes across medicine.”

Gray said that these studies support the idea that patients feel more comfortable with a doctor they know, and doctors can shape a treatment more personal for a patient they know as well.

The research had limitations — for example, many of the studies looked back at patient records instead of following patients through the years, and they did not take into account the patients’ age, sex, socioeconomic status, or other factors such as whether they were smokers.

Additionally, it should be noted, if an individual becomes sick, he or she may have to seek out a wide range of different doctors.

Having a doctor you trust, however, is incredibly important when you are ill — and seeing a doctor regularly will help patient and doctor build a stronger, more supportive relationship.

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