Continuity of care: integrated healthcare approach

What is integrated healthcare approach?

Integrated healthcare focuses on the coordination of health services and co-operation of health professionals. Integrated health services ensure that people receive a continuum of health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, disease management, rehabilitation and palliative care services, at the different levels and sites of care within the health system. These services are based on people’s needs and are provided over the life course.

Health literacy plays an important role in various aspects of continuity of care. Patients with a low level of health literacy might not be able to make the right choices regarding their health or medication and to adhere to these decisions to maintain or improve health outcomes. This might disrupt continuity of care. The promotion of health literacy should thus be taken into account when developing an integrated healthcare approach (read more about the comprehensive approach).

What can be the benefits of person-centred and integrated healthcare?

Person-centered and integrated healthcare can be beneficial and important for individuals and their families, for healthcare professionals, for communities as well as for health systems:

Benefits for individuals and their families:

  • better access to care;
  • improved health literacy and decision-making skills that promote independence;
  • shared decision-making and increased involvement in care planning;
  • promotion of self-management;
  • better coordination of care: It saves time and is more pleasant for individuals and their families when team members all are aware of the patient’s/client’s issues.

Benefits for health professionals:

  • education and training opportunities to learn new skills;
  • improved workloads and job satisfaction;
  • role enhancement that expands the workforce.

Benefits for communities:

  • improved access to care, especially for vulnerable groups;
  • improved health outcomes and healthier communities;
  • better relationships with care providers that build community awareness and trust in care services;
  • development of care which takes community needs into account.

Benefits for health systems:

  • improved equity and enhanced access to care for all;
  • patient safety and use of preventive programmes are improved;
  • reduced duplication of health services and reduced overall costs of care;
  • reduced mortality and morbidity from both infectious and non-communicable diseases.

Why is this approach important?

A person-centred and integrated approach can be beneficial for increased delivery efficiency, decreased costs, improved equity in uptake of service, better health literacy and self-care, increased satisfaction with care, improved relationships between patients and their care providers, and an improved ability to respond to healthcare crises. In this way, health systems can offer services that are of high quality, financially sustainable and responsive to the needs of individuals and communities (read more about person-centered approach).

An integrated approach can also support the promotion of health literacy. Health literacy policies are more sustainable if they incorporate interventions that are fully integrated in healthcare systems. Assessing health literacy issues and empowering patients and their social environment should belong to standard operational procedures for health professionals. Besides, it should be part of these procedures to mitigate problems due to poor health literacy.

Capacity building for health literacy should be part of standard curricula for formal training of professionals and for continuing professional development activities. Moreover, successful interventions should take into account the local socio-cultural context.

Health literacy should be incorporated in all healthcare policies. Integrating health literacy interventions in programmes for healthy ageing can empower older people in managing their own health and will help them to remain active and healthy.

Literature:

  • Berwick, D., Nolan, T. and Whittington, J. (2008) The Triple Aim: Care, Health, And Cost. Health Affairs, 27, no.3:759-769 doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.27.3.759. Download PDF here
  • WHO (2015) WHO global strategy on people-centred and integrated health services. Interim report. Download PDF here

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