Dementia patients who are seen by a single family doctor have better health and an improved quality of life, according to a new study.
Those who consistently see the same GP have lower rates of health complications and fewer emergency hospital visits, researchers found.
The new study examined the impact of so-called continuity of care among more than 9,000 dementia patients aged 65 and over in England in 2016.
The research, led by experts at the University of Exeter, found that people with dementia who were consistently seen by the same GP over the course a year were given fewer medicines and were less likely to be given drugs that can cause problems like incontinence, drowsiness and falls.
These patients were also 35% less likely to experience delirium, a state of confusion commonly seen among dementia patients, and 58% less likely to experience incontinence.
The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, also found that dementia patients with a named GP were 10% less likely to have an emergency hospital admission compared to patients who had multiple GPs caring for them.
The authors concluded: “Higher continuity of GP care for patients with dementia was associated with safer prescribing and lower rates of major adverse events.
“Increasing continuity of care for patients with dementia may help improve treatment and outcomes.”
They added: “This study produced evidence that higher continuity of care may contribute to improved clinical management, and to the health and quality of life of patients with dementia.”
Lead author Dr João Delgado, of the University of Exeter, said: “The number of people with dementia has been rising steadily and it is now one of the leading causes of death in the UK.
“In the absence of a cure, long-term care is particularly important.
“Treating people with dementia can be complex, because it often occurs together with other common diseases.
“Our research shows that seeing the same general practitioner consistently over time is associated with improved safe prescribing and improved health outcomes.
“This could have important healthcare impacts, including reduced treatment costs and care needs.”
Co-author Sir Denis Pereira Gray, added: “These new findings show that GP continuity is associated with important benefits for patients.
“Whilst national policy makers have for years discouraged continuity, general practices can still provide good P continuity through their internal practice organisation, for example, by using personal lists.”
Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society said: “For the 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, it’s likely dementia isn’t the only condition they’re getting treatment for.
“It’s clear from this study that consistently seeing the same GP has real benefits for people living with dementia – better management and treatment of conditions, and lower risk of complications like delirium and incontinence, leading to improved quality of life.
“The pandemic has put GP services under immense pressure, so while we might not be able to get consistent GP care for everyone with dementia tomorrow, policymakers should absolutely be working with the NHS to build this into their plans as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, added: “Ultimately what is needed in order to allow GPs to deliver continuity of care to those patients who value it is more GPs and more members of the practice team so that we can spend more time with patients.
“The Government must urgently deliver on its manifesto pledge of 6,000 more GPs and thousands more members of the practice team so that GPs are able to give patients with dementia, and all their patients, the care they need and deserve.”