Integration and continuity of primary care: polyclinics and alternatives - a patient-centred analysis of how organisation constrains care co-ordination
- Publisher: NIHR
Background\ud An ageing population, the increasing specialisation of clinical services and diverse health-care provider ownership make the co-ordination and continuity of complex care increasingly problematic. The way in which the provision of complex health care is co-ordinated produces – or fails to produce – six forms of continuity of care (cross-sectional, longitudinal, flexible, access, informational and relational). Care co-ordination is accomplished by a combination of activities by patients themselves; provider organisations; care networks co-ordinating the separate provider organisations; and overall health-system governance. This research examines how far organisational integration might promote care co-ordination at the clinical level.\ud Objectives\ud To examine (1) what differences the organisational integration of primary care makes, compared with network governance, to horizontal and vertical co-ordination of care; (2) what difference provider ownership (corporate, partnership, public) makes; (3) how much scope either structure allows for managerial discretion and ‘performance’; (4) differences between networked and hierarchical governance regarding the continuity and integration of primary care; and (5) the implications of the above for managerial practice in primary care.\ud Methods\ud Multiple-methods design combining (1) the assembly of an analytic framework by non-systematic review; (2) a framework analysis of patients’ experiences of the continuities of care; (3) a systematic comparison of organisational case studies made in the same study sites; (4) a cross-country comparison of care co-ordination mechanisms found in our NHS study sites with those in publicly owned and managed Swedish polyclinics; and (5) the analysis and synthesis of data using an ‘inside-out’ analytic strategy. Study sites included professional partnership, corporate and publicly owned and managed primary care providers, and different configurations of organisational integration or separation of community health services, mental health services, social services and acute inpatient care.\ud Results\ud Starting from data about patients’ experiences of the co-ordination or under-co-ordination of care, we identified five care co-ordination mechanisms present in both the integrated organisations and the care networks; four main obstacles to care co-ordination within the integrated organisations, of which two were also present in the care networks; seven main obstacles to care co-ordination that were specific to the care networks; and nine care co-ordination mechanisms present in the integrated organisations. Taking everything into consideration, integrated organisations appeared more favourable to producing continuities of care than did care networks. Network structures demonstrated more flexibility in adding services for small care groups temporarily, but the expansion of integrated organisations had advantages when adding new services on a longer term and a larger scale. Ownership differences affected the range of services to which patients had direct access; primary care doctors’ managerial responsibilities (relevant to care co-ordination because of their impact on general practitioner workload); and the scope for doctors to develop special interests. We found little difference between integrated organisations and care networks in terms of managerial discretion and performance.\ud Conclusions\ud On balance, an integrated organisation seems more likely to favour the development of care co-ordination and, therefore, continuities of care than a system of care networks. At least four different variants of ownership and management of organisationally integrated primary care providers are practicable in NHS-like settings. Future research is therefore required, above all to evaluate comparatively the different techniques for coordinating patient discharge across the triple interface between hospitals, general practices and community health services; and to discover what effects increasing the scale and scope of general practice activities will have on continuity of care.