Integrating care for high-risk patients in England using the virtual ward model: lessons in the process of care integration from three case sites

Int J Integr Care. 2013 Nov 5;13:e046. doi: 10.5334/ijic.1150. eCollection 2013.


Background: Patients at high risk of emergency hospitalisation are particularly likely to experience fragmentation in care. The virtual ward model attempts to integrate health and social care by offering multidisciplinary case management to people at high predicted risk of unplanned hospitalisation.

Objective: To describe the care practice in three virtual ward sites in England and to explore how well each site had achieved meaningful integration.

Method: Case studies conducted in Croydon, Devon and Wandsworth during 2011-2012, consisting of semi-structured interviews, workshops, and site visits.

Results: Different versions of the virtual wards intervention had been implemented in each site. In Croydon, multidisciplinary care had reverted back to one-to-one case management.

Conclusions: To integrate successfully, virtual ward projects should safeguard the multidisciplinary nature of the intervention, ensure the active involvement of General Practitioners, and establish feedback processes to monitor performance such as the number of professions represented at each team meeting.

Keywords: algorithms; hospitalisation; integrated delivery of health care; patient care team; patient readmission; preventive health services.