By Shelly Morrow Mark, Executive Editor

Among seniors with traditional Medicare coverage, those with more continuity of outpatient care were less likely to visit the emergency department, according to a recent study published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

For the study, researchers looked at information on more than 3 million Medicare beneficiaries from 2011 to 2013. Compared to patients with the lowest continuity of care, the researchers found that the Medicare patients with highest continuity of care had up to a 20% decreased relative risk of an ED visit. Continuity of care is defined as consistently seeing the same physician on an outpatient basis.

“Higher continuity of care was associated with lower risk of having any emergency department visit,” said lead study author David Nyweide, PhD, of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in Baltimore, MD, in an American College of Emergency Physicians press release.

Background information in the study states that patients 65 years of age or older account for 15% of all ED visits in the United States. Older adults visit the ED because they have a health problem that needs attention right away, or they have trouble accessing outpatient care, according to the article.

“Visits with the same physician or a small number of physicians fosters long-term relationships for Medicare patients, which is ultimately good for their health,” Nyweide said. “The critical factor seems to be consistent visits with one physician or few physicians, not lots of them,” he said. The study mentions that previous research also has shown a connection between higher continuity of care and lower risk of ED visits.

For more information on clinical topics in emergency medicine, check out the latest issue of Emergency Medicine Reports.