Why you should hug your doctor the next time you see them

Research shows if you see the same doctor you are likely to reduce your risk of death

Researchers have found a link between being cared for by the same doctor and reduced mortality. Photograph: iStock

The next time you see your GP I want you to do me a favour. I’d like you to give them a big hug. Yes, you read that correctly. And no, I do not wish to interfere with the proper and professional relationship you have with your doctor. But I do want you to greet them as you would a friend who you hadn’t seen for a long time.

There are two reasons for this extraordinary request.

The first is recent research that shows if you see the same doctor each time you need medical care you are likely to reduce your risk of death. And secondly GPs are having such a difficult time in Ireland at the moment they badly need some extra appreciation.

To the research first. We already know that continuity of care produces a number of benefits, including fewer emergency hospital admissions and patients following medical advice more closely.


Now, researchers from the universities of Exeter and Manchester have found a link between being cared for by the same doctor and reduced mortality. Led by veteran GP, Sir Denis Pereira Gray, the paper in BMJ Open suggests the bond between patients and their doctors might be even more important than we thought.

They searched the literature and found 18 studies showing a definite link between increased continuity of care and lower death rates. One piece of research found that colorectal surgery patients at a hospital had twice the risk of dying within one year if they had a different surgeon when readmitted than if they saw the same one.

Human effect

“This phenomenon applies to specialists as well as generalist doctors,” Gray noted. “We have found articles which include surgeons and psychiatrists, so we think this is a human effect that goes across medicine.”

This latest research supports previous work suggesting seeing the same doctor means patients feel more comfortable discussing problems with their doctor. At the same time it allows doctors to better tailor advice and treatment to individuals.

So if you are one in the diminishing group of Irish patients who has a long-standing relationship with a doctor you are fortunate. The standard of care you receive as a result will likely lengthen your life. That alone deserves a demonstration of appreciation.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for the growing number of people who cannot find any GP to look after them. About 70 per cent of practices around the country are no longer taking new patients. Many are bursting at the seams: Carrickmacross GP Dr Shane Corr tweeted a picture some weeks ago which rapidly went viral. It showed a lengthy queue of people outside his group practice early on a Monday morning looking to make an appointment for sometime that week. By 11am every Monday all routine appointments for the entire week are filled.

Huge disadvantage

It’s a fair bet that patients of this and similar practices are happy to see any GP. However, you need better access to appointments than that to enable you to develop the kind of relationship with an individual doctor that would yield lower mortality and other benefits for your health. And if you are someone who cannot even find a GP, you really are at a huge disadvantage.

Unsurprisingly, this rotten state of affairs is affecting the health and well-being of doctors also. About one in five established GPs have left their practices and emigrated to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One third of those presently training to be family doctors say they are likely to leave Ireland to set up practice elsewhere. Armageddon is fast approaching and yet a Government led by a fully trained GP, Leo Varadkar, is doing nothing about it.

It’s an extraordinary state of affairs.

So please say a big thank you as you hug your GP.

And, if you’re on Twitter, maybe you could tell us about it by using the hashtag #❤️MyGP.