Developing a Common Understanding of Networks of Care through a Scoping Study

Health Syst Reform. 2020 Sep 25;6(2):e1810921. doi: 10.1080/23288604.2020.1810921.


The phrase "Networks of Care" seems familiar but remains poorly defined. A health system that exemplifies effective Networks of Care (NOC) purposefully and effectively interconnects service delivery touch points within a catchment area to fill critical service gaps and create continuity in patient care. To more fully elaborate the concept of Networks of Care, we conducted a multi-method scoping study that included a literature review, stakeholder interviews, and descriptive case studies from five low- and middle-income countries. Our extended definition of a Network of Care features four overlapping and interdependent domains of activity at multiple levels of health systems, characterized by: 1) Agreement and Enabling Environment, 2) Operational Standards, 3) Quality, Efficiency and Responsibility, and 4) Learning and Adaptation. There are a series of key interrelated themes within each domain. Creating a common understanding of what characterizes and fosters an effective Network of Care can drive the evolution and strengthening of national health programs, especially those incorporating universal health coverage and promoting comprehensive care and integrated services. An understanding of the Networks of Care model can help guide efforts to move health service delivery toward goals that can benefit a diversity of stakeholders, including a variety of health system actors, such as health care workers, users of health systems, and the wider community at large. It can also contribute to improving poor health outcomes and reducing waste originating from fragmented services and lack of access.

Keywords: Networks of care; high quality health systems; integrated service delivery; maternal and neonatal health; subnational health systems strengthening; universal health coverage.

MeSH terms

  • Community Networks / trends*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care / trends
  • Humans