Networks as a way to hospital and primary/ community care integration: findings from a narrative review of the main international models

Igiene e Sanità Pubblica 2023; 82 (2):27-48

Marcello Di Pumpo1, Lorenzo Sommella2, Gianfranco Damiani1,3

1 Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy
2 Fondazione Policlinico Universitario Campus Bio-Medico, Rome, Italy
3 Fondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCS, Rome, Italy

Healthcare systems are complex systems. Achieving financial, social, and environmental sustainability of these systems requires a high degree of integration and coordination at all levels, especially between acute-care settings and primary/community care services. Some authors have, therefore, suggest redirecting integrated healthcare research towards the network theory and network concepts as a useful lens.

The current paper proposes to investigate the existence, the institutional level of formalization and the degree of development of hospital/primary-community care Networks currently present in the main types of healthcare systems worldwide by studying an appropriate selection of representative countries for each system typology.

Materials and Methods
A narrative review of the scientific and gray literature following the methodology by Green et al. was, therefore, conducted to describe hospital and primary/community care networks and their integration/coordination in the main international models. To select these models, one country with the current highest life expectancy at birth for each of the B öhm’s five healthcare system categories was chosen. The grade of integration of the Networks retrieved for each State was therefore qualitatively appraised (high, medium or low degree), following Valentijn’s framework.

The networks retrieved show: in Norway, Australia and Japan both at the government/ national and at the regional/lower level/other a high degree of systemic, organizational, normative and functional integration; in Switzerland both at the government/national and at the regional/lower level/other a medium degree of systemic, organizational, normative and functional integration; in the USA at the governmental/institution level a low degree of systemic, organizational and normative integration, with a medium degree of functional integration and at the regional/lower level/other integration a low degree of systemic and normative integration with medium degree of organization integration and high degree of functional integration.

The high levels and degree of hospital/primary – community care integration of Norway, Australia and Japan are in line with what could be expected from the universalistic healthcare system in place. The medium levels of integration of Switzerland are also in line with what the Social health insurance system and, especially, the cantonal system. The low levels of integration of the USA are in line with the privatistic healthcare systems. However, a medium degree was found for functional integration probably due to its unparalleled technological advancement.

The study shows how the levels of hospital/primary-community care integration are connected to the specific healthcare system in place in each country. COVID-19 showed how complex systems like healthcare systems had to reconfigure themselves to reach high levels of integration in small time to be able to save lives and contain the spread of the virus. These results will prove useful for policymakers, healthcare and public health professionals in the task of establishing effective Networks to achieve high levels of integration in their institutions.

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