Customer loyalty is often a fleeting thing. For many of us, something more convenient, or at a better price, or that offers more will have us switching brands in a heartbeat. You may not consider your medical care to be in the same category, but what happens when you have to wait several weeks to get an appointment or someone on the office staff is rude? Chances are good that you start looking for another doctor. But new research suggests that you might want to hesitate before making that decision because it might actually make a difference in your lifespan.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Exeter in England, found that remaining with the same primary care physician over time may help you live a healthier and longer life.1 Pereira Gray, Denis J.; et al. “Continuity of care with doctors—a matter of life and death? A systematic review of continuity of care and mortality.” BMJ Open. 28 June 2018. Accessed 4 July 2018. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/6/e021161. These results are based on an analysis of 22 separate investigations that took place in nine countries with a variety of healthcare systems and cultural disparities. Eighteen of the studies clearly showed that staying with one doctor for an extended period substantially decreased early mortality rates from all causes.
By reviewing the length of time spent under the care of one physician against death rates of the subjects for a 21-year span from 1996 to 2017, the researchers were able to determine that remaining in the continuous care of one doctor increased the likelihood of a longer life. What’s more, there was considerable evidence that this was true not only for primary care physicians but for specialists as well, including surgeons and psychiatrists.
Why might seeing a single doctor over the years benefit your health? There are two reasons, both of which probably have to do with the relationship you develop over time. First, if you have been going to the same doctor for many years, chances are good you are very comfortable with him or her and therefore more likely to discuss any issues that come up, big or small. That can potentially lead to the discovery of a health problem at an earlier point.
And second, it works positively from the other side of the desk as well. If a doctor knows your medical history, he or she might notice a change or a difficulty you are having that a less familiar doctor would not even be aware of. That’s also why it makes sense for whatever specialists you use as well, since someone who knows your particular background and history may be able to spot a problem much sooner than a new doctor who’s only met you a handful of times—or never before, for that matter.
Now that medical records are shared electronically, any doctor you visit should be able to access your health history. However, that doesn’t change the personal nature of a face-to-face appointment and the fact that someone who has known you for years might recognize a difference in demeanor or behavior that someone new could not.
Of course, this is not to say that you should stick with a doctor with whom you have a completely different health philosophy, one you have little confidence in, one with a terrible bedside manner, or one who’s just a plain bad doctor. The point is to do some research on your own and shop around until you find a physician whom you trust and feel can help you make the best, most informed medical decisions. Many doctors nowadays are becoming more open to complementary medicine and like seeing patients who are interested in taking charge of their health. If you’re not finding one in your neighborhood, consider looking instead for a doctor of naturopathic medicine, as they emphasize wellness strategies and holistic care more than most traditionally trained M.D.s.
When you do find that physician who is right for you, stick with them. In an ideal world, you can develop a good relationship with all of their colleagues as well, so you can feel similarly comfortable with any nurses and physician assistants in the practice too. It will make your visits to the doctor a more pleasant experience and quite possibly help you live a longer life.
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|1.||↑||Pereira Gray, Denis J.; et al. “Continuity of care with doctors—a matter of life and death? A systematic review of continuity of care and mortality.” BMJ Open. 28 June 2018. Accessed 4 July 2018. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/6/e021161.|