When you’re not feeling well, it’s tempting to see any doctor who happens to be available—whether another doctor in your doctor’s practice or someone at a walk-in urgent care center. But a groundbreaking new study suggests that seeing the same doctor over a period of time can have a profound effect on one’s health.

Study findings: To better understand the importance of continuity of care (repeated contact with the same doctor over time), researchers reviewed the results of 22 high-quality studies conducted in nine countries with diverse cultures and very different health-care systems.

The practice of seeing the same doctor—instead of changing doctors over time—resulted in significantly fewer deaths over the research periods in 18 (82%) of those studies compared with those without continuity of care. The benefit applied across cultures. Regular repeated contact with the same doctor was also linked with fewer visits to the hospital.

A surprising detail: The benefits associated with seeing the same doctor were found whether the patient was seeing a general practitioner—or a specialist such as a psychiatrist or surgeon.

According to the research, seeing the same doctor improves doctor-patient communication…boosts patient satisfaction with the visit…and increases the likelihood that the patient will follow medical advice.

So what’s the secret to finding a doctor you’ll want to keep seeing?

It may take a few tries before you find one who’s a keeper. After a doctor visit, ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether the person you’re seeing is right for you over the long haul.

Did the doctor and office staff…

  • Make you feel comfortable during your appointment?
  • Explain things in a way that was easy to understand?
  • Listen carefully to you?
  • Spend enough time with you?
  • Give you a chance to ask questions?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you may want to keep looking for your “forever doctor.”

For advice on the right questions to ask your doctor if you have an undiagnosed problem or a flare-up of a known condition, read here.