How unique is continuity of care? A review of continuity and related concepts

Fam Pract. 2012 Jun;29(3):264-71. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmr104. Epub 2011 Nov 1.


Background: The concept of 'continuity of care' has changed over time and seems to be entangled with other care concepts, for example coordination and integration of care. These concepts may overlap, and differences between them often remain unclear.

Objective: In order to clarify the confusion of tongues and to identify core values of these patient-centred concepts, we provide a historical overview of continuity of care and four related concepts: coordination of care, integration of care, patient-centred care and case management.

Methods: We identified and reviewed articles including a definition of one of these concepts by performing an extensive literature search in PubMed. In addition, we checked the definition of these concepts in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Results: Definitions of continuity, coordination, integration, patient-centred care and case management vary over time. These concepts show both great entanglement and also demonstrate differences. Three major common themes could be identified within these concepts: personal relationship between patient and care provider, communication between providers and cooperation between providers. Most definitions of the concepts are formulated from the patient's perspective.

Conclusions: The identified themes appear to be core elements of care to patients. Thus, it may be valuable to develop an instrument to measure these three common themes universally. In the patient-centred medical home, such an instrument might turn out to be an important quality measure, which will enable researchers and policy makers to compare care settings and practices and to evaluate new care interventions from the patient perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Case Management
  • Continuity of Patient Care*
  • Critical Pathways
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Terminology as Topic*