If you manage or work in a GP surgery, continuity of care can make a huge difference to your patients’ experience and their overall wellbeing.
In this post, we’ll explain what continuity of care is in a GP setting, before exploring some of the policies and procedures that will help you deliver a higher quality of care to your patients.
What Is Continuity of Care?
Continuity of care is a strategy for making primary care local, accessible and familiar. It’s all about building strong and ongoing relationships between GPs and patients. At the heart of continuity of care is the idea that patients should see the same GP as often as possible.
For patients, this means that their care will be personalised, and focused on their unique needs and circumstances.
Continuity of care means that the GP develops a deep understanding of the patient and their medical history. As a result, the GP can make more informed diagnoses, and patients can better trust their GP’s advice and judgement.
In delivering continuity of care, management continuity is just as important as relationship continuity. This means ensuring effective information sharing and co-ordination of services when a patient receives care from more than one clinician or provider.
On a fundamental level, continuity of care means that a patient will regularly consult the same GP so that they can develop a stronger therapeutic relationship.
Yet continuity of care goes deeper than this. Due to a number of factors, it’s not always possible for patients to see the same GP at every visit. The considerable NHS backlog, coupled with patients’ needs and expectations for fast access, means that patients often need to see whichever GP is available.
What Does Continuity of Care Look Like in Practice?
Here are some principles that can help GP practices work towards continuity of care:
- Access arrangements – When booking appointments, patients often have to make a choice between seeing their regular GP, or getting a faster consultation. At the front desk, patients should be advised on the benefits of continuity, even if this sometimes means waiting longer for appointments.
- Transparency – Clinics should be open about the availability of their clinicians for different types of consultation. They should publish the clinic’s policy on continuity of care, and make this policy accessible to staff and patients alike.
- Consultations – The emphasis should be on quality, rather than quantity. There should be sufficient time in the consultations for the sort of interactions that lead to a productive therapeutic relationship.
- Management continuity – All healthcare providers make relevant patient information readily available, with established routines for handovers and information exchanges. Providers make personal contact between each other, with proactive follow-ups on patients following procedures or health events.
Should Continuity of Care Still be a Priority?
If the NHS is facing a backlog, and if patients must routinely wait for consultations, does it still make sense to promote continuity of care?
As part of a 2010 inquiry into the quality of general practice in England, The King’s Trust conducted a consultation of continuity of care and the patient experience.
Their consultation found that the strong therapeutic relationships created by continuity of care result in:
- Increased levels of patient satisfaction.
- Greater morale among staff at all levels.
- Reduced costs.
- Better health outcomes.
So though the current emphasis might be on reducing the backlog, continuity of care may still be the most effective and sustainable strategy for maintaining good care quality standards.
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