Continuity of care is an essential aspect of quality in general practice. This study is the first systematic follow-up of Finnish primary care patients' assessments with regard to personal continuity of care.
To ascertain whether patient-reported longitudinal personal continuity of care is related to patient characteristics and their consultation experiences, and how this had changed over the study period.
A 15-year follow-up questionnaire survey that took place at Tampere University Hospital catchment area, Finland.
The survey was conducted among patients attending health centres in the Tampere University Hospital catchment area from 1998 until 2013. From a sample of 363 464 patients, a total of 157 549 responded. The responses of patients who had visited a doctor during the survey weeks (n = 97 468) were analysed. Continuity of care was assessed by asking the question: 'When visiting the health centre, do you usually see the same doctor?'; patients could answer 'yes' or 'no'.
Approximately half of the responders had met the same doctor when visiting the healthcare centre. Personal continuity of care decreased by 15 percentage points (from 66% to 51%) during the study years. The sense of continuity was linked to several patients' experiences of the consultation. The most prominent factor contributing to the sense of continuity of care was having a doctor who was specifically appointed (odds ratio 7.28, 95% confidence interval = 6.65 to 7.96).
Continuity of care was proven to enhance the experienced quality of primary care. Patients felt that continuity of care was best realised when they could consult a doctor who had been specifically appointed to them. Despite efforts of the authorities, over the past 15 years patient-reported continuity of care has declined in Finland.
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