Importance: Preventable hospitalizations are common among older adults for reasons that are not well understood.
Objective: To determine whether Medicare patients with ambulatory visit patterns indicating higher continuity of care have a lower risk of preventable hospitalization.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: Ambulatory visits and hospital admissions.
Participants: Continuously enrolled fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries older than 65 years with at least 4 ambulatory visits in 2008.
Exposures: The concentration of patient visits with physicians measured for up to 24 months using the continuity of care score and usual provider continuity score on a scale from 0 to 1.
Main outcomes and measures: Index occurrence of any 1 of 13 preventable hospital admissions, censoring patients at the end of their 24-month follow-up period if no preventable hospital admissions occurred, or if they died.
Results: Of the 3,276,635 eligible patients, 12.6% had a preventable hospitalization during their 2-year observation period, most commonly for congestive heart failure (25%), bacterial pneumonia (22.7%), urinary infection (14.9%), or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (12.5%). After adjustment for patient baseline characteristics and market-level factors, a 0.1 increase in continuity of care according to either continuity metric was associated with about a 2% lower rate of preventable hospitalization (continuity of care score hazard ratio [HR], 0.98 [95% CI, 0.98-0.99; usual provider continuity score HR, 0.98 [95% CI, 0.98-0.98). Continuity of care was not related to mortality rates.
Conclusions and relevance: Among fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries older than 65 years, higher continuity of ambulatory care is associated with a lower rate of preventable hospitalization.