Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

It's all about recognition! Qualitative study of the value of interpersonal continuity in general practice

Heidi Bøgelund Frederiksen1*, Jakob Kragstrup1 and Gitte Dehlholm-Lambertsen2

Author Affiliations

1 Research Unit of General Practice, Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, JB Winsløws Vej 9A, 5000 Odense C, Denmark

2 Odense University Hospital, Sønder Boulevard 29, 5000 Odense C, Denmark

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-47

Published: 26 June 2009



Continuity of care has traditionally been regarded as a core quality of general practice, but the long-term doctor-patient relationship has been put under pressure. In many places practices are expanding, with larger teams and more registered patients, thereby threatening the possibility of patients staying with their own general practitioner (GP). GPs often take it for granted that interpersonal continuity is valuable. However, little is known about how patient satisfaction is related to interpersonal continuity. The purpose of this study is to explore the creation of patient satisfaction or dissatisfaction in the interpersonal relation with the GP, and in a comprehensive way to investigate how this is related to continuity of care.


Qualitative study based on 22 interviews with patients from two practices in Denmark. A total of 12 patients saw a regular doctor and 10 saw an unfamiliar doctor. The patients were selected after an observed consultation and sampled purposefully according to reason for encounter, age and sex. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to study how patients perceive meeting either a regular or an unfamiliar GP. The analysis explored the patients' perception of their interpersonal relationship with their GP, and interpreted the accounts by using social psychological theories.


A long-term continuous relationship with the GP could be satisfactory, but it could also be the reverse. The same pattern was shown in case of an unfamiliar GP. Therefore, patient satisfaction and interpersonal continuity were not causally related. On the contrary, there was a general pattern of how the satisfactory and trustful doctor-patient relationship from the patients' point of view could be created, maintained or destroyed. A pattern where the process of recognition, by respecting and remembering, on the one hand created and maintained satisfaction while humiliation on the other hand destroyed satisfaction in the relationship.


It was not valuable to have a continuous relationship unless the GP recognized the patient. The social psychological concept of recognition had two different meanings and the GP had to do both, respect and remember the patient, in order to create and sustain the trustful relationship. The added value of interpersonal continuity had to be combined with recognition.