Integration of health and human services can play a critical role in caring for people with co-occurring social needs and poor health. But more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of integration, the best ways to implement integrated programs, and their long-term sustainability.
These are the findings to a new article published by researchers at the Social Interventions Research and Evaluation Network, Center for Innovation in Social Work and Health, and Aligning Systems for Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center (GHPC). The article appears in Health Affairs‘ special issue Integrating Social Services & Health.
“It is widely believed these integration efforts have the potential to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of both health and human services and eventually to improve individual and population health,” says coauthor Karen Minyard, Ph.D., GHPC’s CEO. “Yet, while there is growing acceptance of the need to address social determinants of health, we found there is very little evidence showing interested communities and organizations how to best achieve it.”
The authors recognize integration as a continuum — from less involved collaboration between organizations to full organizational integration. In examining existing integration efforts the authors found that
- Most of the integration efforts are initiated by health-sector organizations or funded with health care dollars.
- While there are anticipated benefits for the health of individuals and reduced health care costs for organizations, the actual evidence of such impacts is limited, with even a smaller evidence base available for the health and health care impacts of communitywide efforts
- There are numerous, known barriers to implementation, including organizations with different systems, staffing models, priorities, and languages. Additionally, both systems are complex and fragmented.
- Financial sustainability is a consistent challenge to integrated health and human services.
- Such efforts often struggle to secure funding to support the infrastructure required for successful collaboration.
The authors conclude that “the success of integration efforts is also likely to depend on the degree to which the current recognition of the impact of social factors on health leads to increased societal investments to improve social conditions.”
Click here to access the article.