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The relationship between relational continuity and family physician follow-up after an antidepressant prescription in older adults: a retrospective cohort study


Background — Side effects can occur within hours to days of starting antidepressant medications, whereas full therapeutic benefit for mood typically takes up to four weeks. This mismatch between time to harm and lag to benefit often leads to premature discontinuation of antidepressants, a phenomenon that can be partially reversed through early doctor-patient communication and follow-up. We investigated the relationship between relational continuity of care – the number of years family physicians have cared for older adult patients – and early follow-up care for patients prescribed antidepressants.

Methods — A retrospective cohort study was conducted on residents of Ontario, Canada aged 66 years or older who were dispensed their first antidepressant prescription through the provincial drug insurance program between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2019. The study utilized multivariable regression to estimate the relationship between relational continuity and 30-day follow-up with the prescribing family physician. Separate estimates were generated for older adults living in urban, non-major urban, and rural communities.

Results — The study found a small positive relationship between relational continuity of care and follow-up care by the prescribing family physician for patients dispensed a first antidepressant prescription (RRR = 1.005; 95% CI = 1.004, 1.006). The relationship was moderated by the patients’ location of dwelling, where the effect was stronger for older adults residing in non-major urban (RRR = 1.009; 95% CI = 1.007, 1.012) and rural communities (RRR = 1.006; 95% CI = 1.002, 1.011).

Conclusions — Our findings do not provide strong evidence of a relationship between relational continuity of care and higher quality management of antidepressant prescriptions. However, the relationship is slightly more pronounced in rural communities where access to continuous primary care and specialized mental health services is more limited. This may support the ongoing need for the recruitment and retention of primary care providers in rural communities.



Rudoler D, Lane N, Grudniewicz A, Ling V, Snadden D, Stukel TA. BMC Prim Care. 2024; 25(1):125. Epub 2024 Apr 22.

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