Study: Continuity of care reduces risk of ED visits

Seniors that consistently see the same physician in an outpatient setting are more likely to avoid an emergency room visit, according to a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Using data from more than three million Medicare beneficiaries, researchers with the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice measured continuity of care based on two risk scores and discovered patients saw the same physician consistently were 20 percent less likely to go to the emergency department.

Those that did go to the ED were slightly more likely to be admitted to the hospital, which suggests patients with better continuity of care receive more appropriate ED referrals.

"Visits with the same physician or a small number of physicians fosters long-term relationships for Medicare patients, which is ultimately good for their health," said David Nyweide, Ph.D, a researcher with CMS and lead author of the study said in an announcement from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).  

"The critical factor seems to be consistent visits with one physician or few physicians, not lots of them. Seniors would be well-advised to maintain an ongoing relationship with the same physician for many reasons, including avoiding emergency department visits."

The number of emergency room visits has grown considerably in the past several years, thanks in part to an increasing number of non-emergency patients visiting the ED. Previous studies have shown that improving continuity of care could save Medicare as much as $600 billion each year by reducing frequently overused medical procedures, and limiting the rate of mortality linked to cardiovascular events.

- here's the study
- here’s the ACEP announcement