The effects of integrated care: a systematic review of UK and international evidence

BMC Health Serv Res. 2018 May 10;18(1):350. doi: 10.1186/s12913-018-3161-3.


Background: Healthcare systems around the world have been responding to the demand for better integrated models of service delivery. However, there is a need for further clarity regarding the effects of these new models of integration, and exploration regarding whether models introduced in other care systems may achieve similar outcomes in a UK national health service context.

Methods: The study aimed to carry out a systematic review of the effects of integration or co-ordination between healthcare services, or between health and social care on service delivery outcomes including effectiveness, efficiency and quality of care. Electronic databases including MEDLINE; Embase; PsycINFO; CINAHL; Science and Social Science Citation Indices; and the Cochrane Library were searched for relevant literature published between 2006 to March 2017. Online sources were searched for UK grey literature, and citation searching, and manual reference list screening were also carried out. Quantitative primary studies and systematic reviews, reporting actual or perceived effects on service delivery following the introduction of models of integration or co-ordination, in healthcare or health and social care settings in developed countries were eligible for inclusion. Strength of evidence for each outcome reported was analysed and synthesised using a four point comparative rating system of stronger, weaker, inconsistent or limited evidence.

Results: One hundred sixty seven studies were eligible for inclusion. Analysis indicated evidence of perceived improved quality of care, evidence of increased patient satisfaction, and evidence of improved access to care. Evidence was rated as either inconsistent or limited regarding all other outcomes reported, including system-wide impacts on primary care, secondary care, and health care costs. There were limited differences between outcomes reported by UK and international studies, and overall the literature had a limited consideration of effects on service users.

Conclusions: Models of integrated care may enhance patient satisfaction, increase perceived quality of care, and enable access to services, although the evidence for other outcomes including service costs remains unclear. Indications of improved access may have important implications for services struggling to cope with increasing demand.

Trial registration: Prospero registration number: 42016037725 .

Keywords: Integrated care; Service reconfiguration, service delivery; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / economics
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / organization & administration
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / standards*
  • Developed Countries / economics
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data
  • Global Health
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs / economics
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration
  • National Health Programs / standards*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Primary Health Care / economics
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Quality Improvement
  • Secondary Care / economics
  • Secondary Care / organization & administration
  • Secondary Care / standards
  • Social Welfare / economics
  • Social Welfare / statistics & numerical data