Background: Relational continuity is a cornerstone of primary care. In developing countries, however, little research has been conducted to determine the perception and experiences of patients in view of relational continuity in primary care. Objective: To study the role of relational continuity in primary care settings and its effect on patients' perceptions and experiences. Methods: A questionnaire-based survey was conducted at eight primary care health centres (PCHCs) in Al-Seeb province, Muscat, the capital city of Oman. All Omani patients aged 18 years and above attending their PCHCs during the study period were invited to participate in the study. Results: From a total of 1300 patients invited, 958 Omani patients agreed to participate in the study (response rate = 74%). More than half of the patients (61%) expressed the preference of consulting the same primary care physician (PCP) to whom they were accustomed. This increased to 69% if the patients had psychosocial problems and to 71% if the patients had chronic medical conditions. A significant proportion of the respondents (72%) felt comfortable and relaxed when consulting the same PCP and 67% expressed an interest in maintaining continuity with the same PCP. The general perspective held by the majority of the studied patients (61%) indicated that relational continuity improved both the patients' medical conditions (51%) and the quality of services (61%). In actuality, however, only 18% experienced relational continuity in their PCHCs. The preference for relational continuity was significantly increased among patients who identified a favourite PCP (P = 0.029) and among educated patients (P = 0.023). Conclusion: Although it is relatively difficult to consult with the same PCP, the majority of Omani patients have experienced several benefits from relational continuity within the context of patient-physician relationship. The preference for relational continuity was highly expressed by patients with chronic or psychosocial problems, patients who were educated and those who identified a named PCP. In view of these findings, the basis of relational continuity if progressed, a great effort is needed to develop and implement strategies to promote relational continuity in primary health care in Oman.
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