Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Is health systems integration being advanced through Local Health District planning?

Carla Saunders A B and David J. Carter A

A Centre for Health Services Management, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Jones Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007 (PO Box 222), Australia. Email: david.carter@uts.edu.au

B Corresponding author. Email: carla.saunders@uts.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH15191
Submitted: 14 October 2015  Accepted: 8 March 2015   Published online: 21 April 2016

Abstract

Objective Delivering genuine integrated health care is one of three strategic directions in the New South Wales (NSW) Government State Health Plan: Towards 2021. This study investigated the current key health service plan of each NSW Local Health District (LHD) to evaluate the extent and nature of health systems integration strategies that are currently planned.

Methods A scoping review was conducted to identify common key principles and practices for successful health systems integration to enable the development of an appraisal tool to content assess LHD strategic health service plans.

Results The strategies that are planned for health systems integration across LHDs focus most often on improvements in coordination, health care access and care delivery for complex at-risk patients across the care continuum by both state- and commonwealth-funded systems, providers and agencies. The most common reasons given for integrated activities were to reduce avoidable hospitalisation, avoid inappropriate emergency department attendance and improve patient care.

Conclusions Despite the importance of health systems integration and finding that all NSW LHDs have made some commitment towards integration in their current strategic health plans, this analysis suggests that health systems integration is in relatively early development across NSW.

What is known about the topic? Effective approaches to managing complex chronic diseases have been found to involve health systems integration, which necessitates sound communication and connection between healthcare providers across community and hospital settings. Planning based on current health systems integration knowledge to ensure the efficient use of scarce resources is a responsibility of all health systems.

What does this paper add? Appropriate planning and implementation of health systems integration is becoming an increasingly important expectation and requirement of effective health systems. The present study is the first of its kind to assess the planned activity in health systems integration in the NSW public health system. NSW health districts play a central role in health systems integration; each health service plan outlines the strategic directions for the development and delivery of all state-funded services across each district for the coming years, equating to hundreds of millions of dollars in health sector funding. The inclusion of effective health systems integration strategies allows Local Health Districts to lay the foundation for quality patient outcomes and long-term financial sustainability despite projected increases in demand for health services.

What are the implications for practice? Establishing robust ongoing mechanisms for effective health systems integration is now a necessary part of health planning. The present study identifies several key areas and strategies that are wide in scope and indicative of efforts towards health systems integration, which may support Local Health Districts and other organisations in systematic planning and implementation.


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