Background: There is evidence that an ongoing patient-physician relationship is associated with improved health outcomes and more efficient health systems. The main objective of this study is to describe the continuity of care in primary healthcare in Catalonia (Spain) and to analyze whether the organization of primary care practices (PCP) or their patients' sociodemographic characteristics play a role in its continuity of care.
Methods: Four indices were used to measure continuity of care: Usual Provider Index (UPC), Modified Modified Continuity Index (MMCI), Continuity of Care Index (COC), and Sequential Continuity Index (SECON). The study was conducted on 287 PCP of the Catalan Institute of Health (Institut Català de la Salut-ICS). Each continuity of care index was calculated at the patient level (3.2 million patients and 35.5 million visits) and then aggregated at the PCP level. We adjusted linear regression models for each continuity index studied, considering the result of the index as an independent variable and demographic and organizational characteristics of the PCP as explanatory variables. Pearson correlation tests were used to compare the four continuity of care indices.
Results: Indices' results were: UPC: 70,5%; MMCI: 73%; COC: 53,7%; SECON: 60,5%. The continuity of care indices had the highest bivariate correlation with the percentage of appointments booked with an assigned health provider (VISUBA variable: the lower the value, the higher the visits without an assigned health provider, and thus an organization favoring immediate consultation). Its R2 ranged between 56 and 63%, depending on the index. The multivariate model which explained better the variability of continuity of care indices (from 49 to 56%) included the variables VISUBA and rurality with a direct relationship; while the variables primary care physician leave days and training practices showed an inverse relationship.
Conclusion: Study results suggest that an organization of primary care favoring immediate consultation is related to a lower continuity of patient care.
Keywords: Continuity of patient care; Health service research; Healthcare services utilization; Patient care management; Patient-physician relationship; Population health management; Primary health care.