The Evaluation of the Continuity of Care at the Group Health Centre, A Unique Multi-specialty, Multi-disciplinary Health Service Organization

by Hui Lee | May 01, 2006

Key Implications for Decision Makers

This project was conducted with patients at a multi-disciplinary, multi-specialty health services organization serving 44,000 rostered patients in Northern Ontario. It investigated continuity of care for patients with diabetes in several areas of barriers and potential solutions to continuity; correlates of continuity; and variability in costs associated with continuity of care and patient outcomes.

Key factors that enhanced continuity of care included:

  • the physician is able to provide services that are regular, timely, and efficient;
  • the physician is able to provide clear and relevant information;
  • most healthcare providers are at the same location;
  • healthcare providers give individualized, realistic information; and
  • patient feels respected, listened to, and understood.

Key factors that detracted from continuity of care included:

  • long waiting times and appointment cancellations;
  • lack of available providers;
  • physician not knowledgeable about current best practice; and
  • patient feels judged or unsupported in self-management strategies.

Most barriers and facilitators of continuity of care that were identified by patients can be modified and so can be addressed by changes in healthcare delivery or patient-provider interactions.

Regular visits were seen by patients to be an essential ingredient in maintaining quality of care.

A 47-item tool, the Diabetes Continuity of Care Survey, was developed with items derived from patient focus group interviews. Testing for reliability and validity and factor analysis was conducted. The measurement of continuity of care using the Diabetes Continuity of Care Survey could help predict those who are receiving good or poor quality of care and will allow healthcare providers to focus attention where needed to improve quality of care.

Increases in continuity of care were associated with increases in quality of care. There was also a direct correlation between patient rating of continuity of care and reported patient satisfaction. Continuity of care was not associated with changes in healthcare costs.

Executive Summary

Continuity of care is a concept that has been garnering increased attention in the last few years. There have been multiple methods proposed by researchers for measuring continuity of care, most of which are based on proportions or ratios of visits to the same healthcare provider or centre. While a consistent method for measuring continuity of care is lacking, increased continuity of care using various definitions and measurement tools has been related to better well-being, lower healthcare costs, better glucose control, and higher satisfaction, but has also not been found to improve health outcomes in other scenarios. Whether a patient is better served by high sequential access to one provider or any provider within the same system or management team is controversial. Finally, patients' perceptions of continuity of care have not been generally evaluated or correlated with current measurement methods. This project was conducted with patients at the Group Health Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, a multidisciplinary, multi-specialty health services organization serving 44,000 rostered patients.

Questions:

  1. Does continuity of care correlate with quality of healthcare, patient satisfaction, patient quality of life, or clinical outcomes?
  2. What differences in healthcare costs are associated with variation in continuity of care and variation in outcomes?
  3. What are the reasons for variation in continuity of care, how can they be described and/or quantified, and how might improvements be made?
  4. How does the movement from a fee-for-service system to a capitated system affect a provider's perception of the provision of continuity of care?

Three sub-studies were conducted to answer the above questions. A qualitative study using a phenomenological approach was employed to gather patients' lived experience of continuity of care and identify the barriers to continuity of care from the patient perspective and to identify potential solutions to these barriers. The next study utilized the qualitative data gathered from the focus groups to develop a questionnaire, the Diabetes Continuity of Care Survey, measuring continuity of care from the perspective of patients with diabetes. The questionnaire was administered at one point in time for initial validity testing and administered two weeks later for test-retest reliability. Finally, a cross-sectional study was carried out to examine the relationships between continuity of care and quality of care, patient satisfaction, quality of life, and costs based on the data gathered from the pre-post study. In the end, we were not able to answer the question about provider perceptions of impact on continuity of care when moving from a fee-for-service to a capitated system, because the number of providers who changed payment mechanism was too small to support the analysis.

Results

A: Continuity of care - Barriers and Solutions

Patients see continuity of care broadly as five separate but related factors: 1) access to services; 2) interactions with physician; 3) interactions with other healthcare professionals; 4) personal self-responsibility; and 5) communication. They identified factors that both enhance and detract from continuity of care within these factors.

Factors that enhanced of continuity of care included:

  • physician is able to provide services that are regular, timely, and efficient;
  • physician is able to provide clear and relevant information;
  • most healthcare providers are at the same location;
  • healthcare providers give individualized, realistic information;
  • patient is able to access tests and specialists when needed;
  • patient feels respected, listened to, and understood;
  • patient feels able to advocate for self; and
  • patient receives feedback regarding medical tests.

Factors that detracted from continuity included:

  • long waiting times and appointment cancellations;
  • lack of available providers;
  • physician not knowledgeable about current best practice;
  • physicians do not offer treatment options;
  • healthcare providers do not communicate with each other;
  • patient feels judged or unsupported in self-management strategies; and
  • patient feels she/he is doing all she/he can to manage diabetes, but does not see this reflected in results

B: Development of a scale to measure continuity of care from patient perspective

A 47-item tool was developed with items derived from patient focus group interviews. It was tested for reliability and validity and was factor analysed. Called the Diabetes Continuity of Care Survey, it was used in subsequent parts of this project.

C. Relationship between continuity of care and other outcomes

There was a direct correlation between the measurement of continuity of care (measured by the Diabetes Continuity of Care Survey) and the process and outcome of diabetes care, such that if the patient rating of continuity was high, so was the score on their process and outcome of care. That is, they were more likely to have had their blood pressure checked, metabolic control, foot and eye exams done, and that the results of their blood pressure and blood tests were in a range indicating better control. There was also a direct correlation between patient rating of continuity of care and reported patient satisfaction. Continuity of care was not associated with changes in healthcare costs. Increases in continuity of care were associated with increases in quality of care. In exploring further the relationship between continuity of care and quality of care, other factors were explored such as age, quality of life, status as a native Canadian, income, and gender. None of these factors was associated with quality of care; only continuity of care remained predicting quality of care. There were no correlations found among continuity of care measures (Diabetes Continuity of Care Survey, continuity of care index, continuity of care ratio).