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Continuity of care and consultation mode in general practice: a cross-sectional and longitudinal study using patient-level and practice-level data from before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in England

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15 November 2023

Published journal: BMJ Open

About 2 mins to read


Objectives Investigate trends in continuity of care with a general practitioner (GP) before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Identify whether continuity of care is associated with consultation mode, controlling for other patient and practice characteristics.

Design Retrospective cross-sectional and longitudinal observational studies.

Setting Primary care records from 389 general practices participating in Clinical Practice Research Datalink Aurum in England.

Participants In the descriptive analysis, 100 000+ patients were included each month between April 2018 and April 2021. Modelling of the association between continuity of care and consultation mode focused on 153 475 and 125 298 patients in index months of February 2020 (before the pandemic) and February 2021 (during the pandemic) respectively, and 76 281 patients in both index months.

Primary and secondary outcomes measures The primary outcome measure was the Usual Provider of Care index. Secondary outcomes included the Bice-Boxerman index and count of consultations with the most frequently seen GP.

Results Continuity of care was gradually declining before the pandemic but stabilised during it. There were consistent demographic, socioeconomic and regional differences in continuity of care. An average of 23% of consultations were delivered remotely in the year to February 2020 compared with 76% in February 2021. We found little evidence consultation mode was associated with continuity at the patient level, controlling for a range of covariates. In contrast, patient characteristics and practice-level supply and demand were associated with continuity.

Conclusions We set out to examine the association of consultation mode with continuity of care but found that GP supply and patient demand were much more important. To improve continuity for patients, primary care capacity needs to increase. This requires sufficient, long-term investment in clinicians, staff, facilities and digital infrastructure. General practice also needs to transform ways of working to ensure continuity for those that need it, even in a capacity-constrained environment.

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