Medicare beneficiaries with more continuity of care at lower risk of ED visits

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Seniors who consistently saw the same physician had up to a 20% decrease in risk of emergency room visit
Seniors who consistently saw the same physician had up to a 20% decrease in risk of emergency room visit

Older Medicare beneficiaries who have more continuity of care and consistently visit the same outpatient physician are less likely to visit an emergency room than those who receive care from several different physicians, according to a recent study.

Researchers with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice used data from more than 3 million fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries between 2011 and 2013 to analyze the link between continuity of care and emergency room visits.

The results showed that a seniors' risk of going to the emergency department, being held for an observation stay or being admitted to the hospital through the emergency room dropped as much as 20% for those with the highest continuity of care.

Those Medicare beneficiaries with high care continuity who did require an emergency department visit were more likely to be admitted to the hospital, but that could be due to having a regular physician who “may provide clearer guidance on which situations are serious enough to warrant a hospital admission,” said lead author David Nyweide, Ph.D, with the CMS' Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Continuity of physician care may also provide seniors with benefits associated with consistent assignment, such as increased satisfaction.

“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,” Nyweide said. “Seniors would be well-advised to maintain an ongoing relationship with the same physician for many reasons, including avoiding emergency department visits.”

Results of the study were published online earlier this month by the Annals of Emergency Medicine.