This year’s International Conference on Integrated Care had tremendous provenance for me since it represented IFIC’s 18th birthday as an organisation in its original birthplace in Utrecht. As one of only two of the original members of that initial meeting in Almere to be present (the other being our former Chair, Guus Schrijvers) it was certainly a time to reflect on how far the study of integrated care has come in the past two decades, and also where the future is leading us.
This conference was characterised by the positive and vibrant way in which all speakers and delegates shared and contributed to this debate. Our hosts in the Netherlands devised a very engaging programme in which individuals and organisations from research, innovation, policy and industry had a unique space to interact and learn. The quality of the site visits, plenary sessions and various symposium sessions and workshops was very high. The added touches of theatre and virtual reality, combined with an excellent venue, played its part.
The focus of the conference was about investing in, and creating, value through integrated care. Many different perspectives were shared, but a recurrent theme was that of the need for social investment. In other words, the need to go beyond the confines of health and social care solutions to embrace and invest in new approaches to care that bring together all available assets within a community to address long-term challenges that promote population health. Empowering and engaging people as co-producers of care within inter-sectoral and inter-professional partnerships to improve quality of care and quality of life is needed to achieve this, especially to the most vulnerable individuals, families and communities.
The focus of global strategies has certainly shifted over the last 18 years, from a core focus on long-term care for the elderly and especially the management of chronic illness, to a more holistic and place-based vision that begins to tackle the underlying and growing complexity of people’s needs within the context of the communities in which they live. However, in a sense, our coming of age party in Utrecht may have taken us full circle to that original meeting where the key question posed was how to develop practical solutions to today’s public health problems? So many innovations and so much progress has been made between then and now.
The conference was proof of the potentially profound and positive impact that can be achieved for people through integrated care. Yet these innovations have often not been sustained and/or have not managed to overcome some of the inherent vulnerabilities that complex service innovations like integrated care are prone. The next step of our evolutionary journey, one that will increasingly embrace place-based approaches focusing on improving outcomes in population-health, will therefore need to as much focus on effective implementation and sustainability as it does on innovation and design.
I already look forward to experiencing our next edition, ICIC19, in San Sabastian, Basque Country, 1-3 April 2019
Dr Nick Goodwin is the CEO and co-Found of the International Foundation for Integrated Care (IFIC)