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Physician continuity of care in the last year of life in community-dwelling adults: retrospective population-based study


Objective To describe the timing of involvement of various physician specialties over the last year of life across different levels of primary care physician continuity for differing causes of death.

Methods We conducted a retrospective cohort study of adults who died in Ontario, Canada, between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2018, using linked population level health administrative data. Outcomes were median days between death and first and last outpatient palliative care specialist encounter, last outpatient encounter with other specialists and with the usual primary care physician. These were calculated by tertile of score on the Usual Provider Continuity Index, defined as the proportion of outpatient physician encounters with the patient’s primary care physician.

Results Patients’ (n=395 839) mean age at death was 76 years. With increasing category of usual primary care physician continuity, a larger proportion were palliative care generalists, palliative care specialist involvement decreased in duration and was concentrated closer to death, the primary care physician was involved closer to death, and other specialist physicians ceased involvement earlier. For patients with cancer, palliative care specialist involvement was longer than for other patients.

Conclusions Compared with patients with lower continuity, those with higher usual provider continuity were more likely to have a primary care physician involved closer to death providing generalist palliative care.

  • end of life care
  • cancer
  • supportive care

Data availability statement

The dataset from this study is held securely in coded form at ICES. While data sharing agreements prohibit ICES from making the dataset publicly available, access may be granted to those who meet pre­specified criteria for confidential access, available at www. The full dataset creation plan and underlying analytic code are available from the authors upon request, understanding that the computer programs may rely upon coding templates or macros that are unique to ICES and are therefore either inaccessible or may require modification.

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