In this study we examined the meaning that patients attach to continuity of care, an important construct of family practice and primary care. Structured oral interviews were conducted with 60 patients who were 35 years of age or older and who had sought health care from a single family physician for at least 15 years. The data included 10 domains that characterize patients' perceptions regarding long-term continuous care. The interview data were analyzed using ethnographic techniques. The main factors contributing to the maintenance of a continuous care relationship seemed to be patient familiarity with the physician, physician knowledge of the patient, patient satisfaction with care received, and patient confidence in the physician. Other factors were personal attributes of the physician, friendship with the physician, ease of communication with the physician, and professional growth of the physician. The availability of the physician and the location of the practice appeared to be reasons to start consulting a physician rather than to continue the relationship with a physician.