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Integrated Care – The Time is Now

Integrated Care – The Time is Now

Almost 1200 people, from around the globe and with different perspectives, gathered together in Barcelona to participate at the 16th International Conference on Integrated Care organized by IFIC in cooperation with the Catalonian government.

As in the past, many common challenges where discussed. This year however something new clearly emerged at the event: a stronger feeling of “action”. Like never before was this feeling so clear – in the early instances of this event, the discussions centered around “what is integrated care?” and “why is it important?”. At the event last year in Edinburgh, I felt a shift from “why” to “how”. This year the theme was obvious. We largely understand the concepts and now leaders want to know the best practices for successful behavior change. Invited politicians engaged with concrete statements, researchers brought forward compelling evidence, and professionals in the area show concrete examples on how to make things happen.

Many reasons can explain the strong momentum for integrated care, but I would like to reflect on one that I have discovered: “the democratization of knowledge and its impact on risk perception”. The phenomenon of a person with independent access to any type of information – where and when they want it, regardless if it is accurate or not – is changing the way in which individuals perceive risks. The more one knows of something, the easier it is to take decisions on actions related to that risk. This is one of the reasons why searching in internet before going to the doctor is so prevalent. It is certainly also modifying the relationships between doctors and patients – or social workers and citizens – since in many cases the patient/citizen arrives with different expectations and is prepared to negotiate whatever is prescribed or recommended.

This growing behavior of appropriating knowledge affects service delivery, because the role of the user is no longer passive. Instead, we have gained more power than ever before. Consequently, social services/social security organizations have to react to better understand the characteristics encompassing that person – to properly serve while being aligned with their mission, mandating solidarity. Thus, working together to serve the person is paramount. Integrated care is not dying – in fact, it has gained momentum to keep on growing. It is necessary not only to preserve the existence of health and social services organizations, and the policies they embrace, but also the growing role of the user in driving the services which they receive.

Time will tell if I am right or wrong, but I feel that there is no way back. Even if relationships amongst social services organizations become more virtual (as opposed to physically integrated), one way or another it will have to take place. If not, there is a risk of losing legitimacy amongst the people they serve.
What do you think?

Dr Hector Upegui, 
Worldwide Business Development Executive for Integrated care,
IBM Watson Health