This year, ICIC19 exceeded our expectations in terms of both the number and diversity of delegates from nearly 60 countries worldwide. This growing following is testament to the continued interest in integrated care as one of the few truly promising routes to improving care and outcomes that is relevant for all people living in different contexts and settings. The universality of the principles of effective integrated care – for example as a core design feature to population health programs, quality improvement initiatives, and value-based health and social care – has continued to fuel a rise in new policies and practices with an associated explosion of funding streams that support innovation and academic endeavor and a thirst for new ways of thinking and new ways of doing.
Of course, the 1300 persons present in San Sebastian are for the most part ‘converts’ to integrated care and, as innovators themselves, feel very much at home with like-minded colleagues seeking to find positive reinforcement of their interests. This is one reason why the ‘feel’ of ICIC conferences is often like no other – we are not alone, our conversations are mutually enhancing, our core ideas are shared. Yet, we are still at the beginning of the integrated care movement. There is so much more to learn, to explore, to research, and to observe before we begin to fully understand ‘what works’ and how and whether integrated care can be implemented successfully, to scale appropriately, and to have a lasting impact on improving the health and wellbeing of people – especially the most vulnerable in our societies who would benefit the most from better care coordination but today are the least likely to receive it.
This represents a new challenge for IFIC which is why it has changed its statutes to go beyond an organization that seeks to bring people together to advance the science, knowledge and adoption of integrated care in policy and practice. Today, IFIC stands as a movement for change with a vision in which all individuals, families and communities should be engaged and empowered to maximise their health and wellbeing through person-centred integrated care. Whilst maintaining a critical eye on whether integrated care is able to achieve its promise, IFIC in the future will seek to advocate and to influence the debate more directly than before – so building on its core strengths and academic credibility to speak to a future where integrated working should become the norm and not confined to special projects running on the sidelines.
IFIC’s growing network, now nearly 20,000 individuals strong, will be supported in the future through the development of regional hubs and collaborative centres – such as those already running vibrantly in Australia, Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The ‘hub’ concept seeks to help grow awareness of IFIC’s activities and to co-create work together with local partners that support and fund its work, build its network, grow capacity and capabilities, and to support knowledge sharing. These collaborations have already enabled IFIC to grow – not just in terms of delegate numbers at yearly conferences, but through an approach to ongoing knowledge exchange through IFIC’s range of Special Interest Groups, the Early Researchers in Integrated Care network, and our webinar programs. These activities form a first step to developing IFIC as a vibrant centre for knowledge exchange and ‘observatory’ on integrated care.
As a (relatively) young researcher I had the privilege of attending the very first meeting of IFIC back in 2000. At the time, and as a social scientist, the subject piqued my academic interests in the policy and management of complex service innovations and the work became a welcome diversion. Soon, however, I recognised its importance as a means to overcome the often terrible state of people’s care and support (especially to vulnerable older people) that fuelled my inner sense of injustice and gave me a burning desire to make a difference. Eventually, this passion became my job and it has been a remarkable ride since – one only made possible by the committed staff working alongside me (as well as forgiving family). In my own next phase of my career – as Professor and Director of the new Central Coast Research Institute in Australia, a joint venture between the University of Newcastle and the Central Coast Local Health District – the new challenge will be to turn research and advocacy into innovation and action. On that new journey I look forward to supporting the ongoing expansion of IFIC’s work in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.
Professor Nick Goodwin is outgoing CEO of the International Foundation for Integrated Care (IFIC) and takes up the post of Director of the Central Coast Research Institute in Australia in September.