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Ann Fam Med. 2003 Sep-Oct;1(3):134-43.

Defining and measuring interpersonal continuity of care.

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Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Ore 97239-3098, USA.



In an effort to learn more about the importance of continuity of care to physicians and patients, I reviewed the medical literature on continuity of care to define interpersonal continuity and describe how it has been measured and studied.


A search of the MEDLINE database from 1966 through April 2002 was conducted to find articles focusing on the keyword "continuity of patient care," including all subheadings. Titles and abstracts of the resulting articles were screened to select articles focusing on interpersonal continuity in the physician-patient relationship or on the definition of continuity of care. These articles were systematically reviewed and analyzed for study method, measurement technique, and research theme.


A total of 379 original articles were found that addressed any aspect of continuity as an attribute of general medical care. One hundred forty-two articles directly related to the definition of continuity or to the concept of interpersonal continuity in the physician-patient relationship. Although the available literature reflects little agreement on how to define continuity of care, it is best defined as a hierarchy of 3 dimensions; informational, longitudinal, and interpersonal continuity. Interpersonal continuity is of particular interest for primary care. Twenty-one measurement techniques have been defined to study continuity, many of which relate to visit patterns and concentration rather than the interpersonal nature of the continuity relationship.


Future inquiry in family medicine should focus on better understanding the interpersonal dimension of continuity of care.

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