Background: Internationally, key health care reform elements rely on improved integration of care between the primary and secondary sectors. The objective of this systematic review is to synthesise the existing published literature on elements of current integrated primary/secondary health care. These elements and how they have supported integrated healthcare governance are presented.
Methods: A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature from PubMed, MEDLINE, CINAHL, the Cochrane Library, Informit Health Collection, the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, European Foundation for Primary Care, European Forum for Primary Care, and Europa Sinapse was undertaken for the years 2006-2012. Relevant websites were also searched for grey literature. Papers were assessed by two assessors according to agreed inclusion criteria which were published in English, between 2006-2012, studies describing an integrated primary/secondary care model, and had reported outcomes in care quality, efficiency and/or satisfaction.
Results: Twenty-one studies met the inclusion criteria. All studies evaluated the process of integrated governance and service delivery structures, rather than the effectiveness of services. They included case reports and qualitative data analyses addressing policy change, business issues and issues of clinical integration. A thematic synthesis approach organising data according to themes identified ten elements needed for integrated primary/secondary health care governance across a regional setting including: joint planning; integrated information communication technology; change management; shared clinical priorities; incentives; population focus; measurement - using data as a quality improvement tool; continuing professional development supporting joint working; patient/community engagement; and, innovation.
Conclusions: All examples of successful primary/secondary care integration reported in the literature have focused on a combination of some, if not all, of the ten elements described in this paper, and there appears to be agreement that multiple elements are required to ensure successful and sustained integration efforts. Whilst no one model fits all systems these elements provide a focus for setting up integration initiatives which need to be flexible for adapting to local conditions and settings.