Research proves it’s better to see the same doctor

Many thought it had to be better if you saw the same doctor; over time you develop trust in them, and whenever they asked “how are you feeling”, they understood what you actually meant by “fine, thank you”.

Now comes proof that seeing the same doctor is better for our health.  A recent study in the New Scientist reports that Denis Pereira Gray, of St Leonard’s Medical Practice, and colleagues at the University of Exeter, UK analysed the results of 22 studies from nine countries with different health systems. Eighteen of the studies found that people who saw the same doctor over time had significantly lower death rates

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What’s changed

Many will have memories of seeing the same doctor whenever needed;  but recently, the NHS has ‘modernised’, identifies us by our date of birth, not our name, and plonked us on a production line that shovels us off into a slot to see the next doctor who is free, rather than taking time to ensure we see someone who knows us. More cost-effective in the short-term, but not so good for us in the long term.

I’d like to get hold of the person who decided that patients could go through this production line system to see the first available doctor, rather than the one who knows us and our medical history.

At a French medical conference, I was collared by French doctors, who asked if I could explain the “clinique system” to them.  They meant the one where you turn up for an Outpatient appointment at your local hospital for “the clinic led by Dr. X”.  And you see the first available doctor.

They were bemused;  surely doctors wanted to follow-up patients to see if treatment was working?  I was left to try and explain that our NHS  worked on numbers IN/OUT, and didn’t seem to worry too much about the outcome.  They weren’t convinced – and neither was I..

As a patient, I abandoned the anonymous Clinic appointments after an anonymous doctor examining me  in ‘MR. X’s Eye Clinic’, asked me “What would Mr. X usually prescribe for this?”  I had made an appointment to see Mr. X because my eye condition had changed, and I could have stayed at home if I’d wanted to diagnose myself.

So I thanked the young doctor, said I would think about it, went outside and told the Receptionist I would wait to see Mr.X – and stayed there until 5 pm to see him.  Now, whenever I go to that Clinic, I am put straight into the queue to see Mr. X (I gather he had words ….!!)

Recently, the Daily Mail’s Psychiatrist Dr. Max Pemberton wrote, “take it from me: seeing the same doctor saves lives”. And went on to say “Those (dementia patients) who were seen by a GP who knew them were ten per cent less likely to be hospitalised”.

Lockdown has shown that doctors are human, and inter-acting with patients has certainly made their work-load less stressful.  Googling their CV can often throw up interesting facts:  I learned one consultant had trained at a hospital in Germany where I had been treated;  another played the Guitar to a professional level – little things that helped us connect

The doctor-patient relationship takes time to develop, but can be invaluable when working out ‘what next’

What you can do

So it is in your own interest to understand that Doctors who really know their patient can usually see if something is wrong, often long before it is apparent to others.  So, next time you phone your GP or Consultant for an appointment,

DON’T say:  Can I have an appointment?

DO say :  “I’d like an appointment with Doctor X.  When are they free please?”

And don’t be fobbed off.  Secretaries and GP Receptionists will try and fill up the next space.  This is fine for them, but not for you.  Dig your heals in, and insist you want to see Dr. X – they can’t refuse.