Health systems integration: state of the evidence

Int J Integr Care. 2009 Jun 17:9:e82. doi: 10.5334/ijic.316.


Introduction: Integrated health systems are considered a solution to the challenge of maintaining the accessibility and integrity of healthcare in numerous jurisdictions worldwide. However, decision makers in a Canadian health region indicated they were challenged to find evidence-based information to assist with the planning and implementation of integrated healthcare systems.

Methods: A systematic literature review of peer-reviewed literature from health sciences and business databases, and targeted grey literature sources.

Results: Despite the large number of articles discussing integration, significant gaps in the research literature exist. There was a lack of high quality, empirical studies providing evidence on how health systems can improve service delivery and population health. No universal definition or concept of integration was found and multiple integration models from both the healthcare and business literature were proposed in the literature. The review also revealed a lack of standardized, validated tools that have been systematically used to evaluate integration outcomes. This makes measuring and comparing the impact of integration on system, provider and patient level challenging.

Discussion and conclusion: Healthcare is likely too complex for a one-size-fits-all integration solution. It is important for decision makers and planners to choose a set of complementary models, structures and processes to create an integrated health system that fits the needs of the population across the continuum of care. However, in order to have evidence available, decision makers and planners should include evaluation for accountability purposes and to ensure a better understanding of the effectiveness and impact of health systems integration.

Keywords: evidence-based policy decisions; health systems integration; systematic literature review.

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