The Impact of Interpersonal Continuity of Primary Care on Health Care Costs and Use: A Critical Review

By Andrew Bazemore, Zach Merenstein, Lara Handler and John W. Saultz

The Annals of Family Medicine May 2023, 21 (3) 274-279; 



PURPOSE: Interpersonal continuity has been shown to play an essential role in primary care’s salutary effects. Amid 2 decades of rapid evolution in the health care payment model, we sought to summarize the range of peer-reviewed literature relating continuity to health care costs and use, information critical to assessing the need for continuity measurement in value-based payment design.

METHODS: After comprehensively reviewing prior continuity literature, we used a combination of established medical subject headings (MeSH) and key words to search PubMed, Embase, and Scopus for articles published between 2002 and 2022 on “continuity of care” and “continuity of patient care,” and payor-relevant outcomes, including cost of care, health care costs, cost of health care, total cost of care, utilization, ambulatory care–sensitive conditions, and hospitalizations for these conditions. We limited our search to primary care key words, MeSH terms, and other controlled vocabulary, including primary care, primary health care, family medicine, family practice, pediatrics, and internal medicine.

RESULTS: Our search yielded 83 articles describing studies that were published between 2002 and 2022. Of these, 18 studies having a total of 18 unique outcomes examined the association between continuity and health care costs, and 79 studies having a total of 142 unique outcomes assessed the association between continuity and health care use. Interpersonal continuity was associated with significantly lower costs or more favorable use for 109 of the 160 outcomes.

CONCLUSIONS: Interpersonal continuity today remains significantly associated with lower health care costs and more appropriate use. Further research is needed to disaggregate these associations at the clinician, team, practice, and system levels, but continuity assessment is clearly important to designing value-based payment for primary care.

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