Integrated health care refers to coordinated care that addresses all aspects of patient health, focuses on a patient’s individual needs, and involves a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals.
While this approach to patient care has grown in popularity in recent years — a 2019 study in the Integrated Healthcare Journal revealed that about 75% of results from online searches for scholarly works about integrated health care had been published within the last 20 years — its roots go back thousands of years. In 430 B.C., Greek physician Hippocrates advocated treating the body as a whole, and not as a group of parts.
In seeking ways to provide the highest level of care to patients, the medical community is increasingly turning to integrated care. Nurse practitioners, whose style of care emphasizes a holistic approach, are among those advancing integrated care. Similarly, programs that educate nurse practitioners, such as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree programs, typically include instruction on this holistic approach to care.
Integrated Care Defined
With integrated care, a variety of individual professionals combine their efforts to form a unified health care team. Using this approach, sometimes called interprofessional health care, each person on the medical team contributes to addressing the patient’s overall health care needs. The team might include professionals such as:
- General practitioners
- Nurse practitioners
- Physical therapists
Integrated health care can take many forms. For example, it can involve the efforts of professionals in various specialties — such as primary care, endocrinology, nutrition, and behavioral health — to prevent or treat a medical condition like diabetes.
Integrated care also can refer to the incorporation of different approaches to treatment. An integrated approach to treating muscle pain, for example, could involve a primary care physician prescribing medication while also referring the patient to a physical therapist for conventional physical therapy — with the therapist also helping the patient learn about complementary strategies such as relaxation techniques.
Regardless of the form it takes, this approach to patient care typically emphasizes:
- Overall wellness — broadening the focus beyond a specific symptom or concern
- Holistic care — considering biological, behavioral, environmental, and social factors
- Evidence-based treatment — ensuring that studies support a treatment’s effectiveness and safety
- Effective data sharing — keeping all health care team members apprised of a patient’s needs and treatments
- Strong patient-provider relationships — promoting open communication among patients, health care professionals, and other medical staff
- Streamlined referrals — facilitating treatment by other providers as needed
Integrated Care vs. Conventional Care
Under conventional health care models, the various treatments that a patient receives and the professionals who provide them are typically not coordinated with other treatments or providers. These treatments can include medication, surgery, and other approaches common in traditional Western medicine. For example, conventional treatment for an individual with a mental health concern generally would entail a mental health professional providing treatments like therapy and pharmacological options.
Integrated care incorporates elements of conventional medical care, but it is a more comprehensive approach that recognizes the connections between the different dimensions of health and wellness. Integrated care involves a team of professionals, each of whom specializes in a different area, working in concert to enhance a patient’s overall well-being.
This type of care for a patient with a mental health disorder, for example, could include health care professionals focused on both the physical and mental dimensions of the patient’s mental health. Integrated care also could combine the conventional treatments of therapy and medication with complementary approaches like recommending meditation or physical activity.
Benefits of Integrated Health Care
An integrated approach to patient care has many potential benefits. Integrated health care can affect outcomes related to the quality, availability, and cost of care. Health care systems that implement this approach can realize positive returns in:
Quality of Care
When a diverse group of providers works in close collaboration to address each patient’s unique needs, they can develop a cohesive plan to enhance the individual’s health. By removing silos that often separate different health care specialties, providers can more easily stay informed about the various treatments their patients are receiving and ensure that patients get the care they need to experience positive outcomes.
When patients receive holistic care for disease management, mental health concerns, and physical therapy needs, they enjoy benefits that go beyond any one illness or injury. Integrated health care can improve patients’ overall well-being, leading to greater satisfaction with the care they receive. Moreover, as health care provider Kaiser Permanente notes, needing to work separately with multiple professionals is a common source of frustration for patients and can lead to errors in treatment. When a patient’s providers are functioning as a team, patient satisfaction is enhanced.
Access to Treatment
Integrating patients’ health care services also makes it easier for patients to get the treatment they need. Medical professionals can seamlessly refer patients to other providers, collaborating with those professionals to ensure patients receive the appropriate care. Integrated care team members are often in the same location, adding to the convenience of accessing holistic care.
The team approach to providing care can also lead to financial benefits. By providing a broad range of services through one coordinated group of professionals, health care facilities can streamline their efforts. This approach can eliminate unnecessary — and often costly — appointments and procedures.
What Is Women’s Integrated Health Care?
Women’s health care is a good example of an area in which providers can integrate services and relationships to more easily meet the broad and evolving concerns of patients as they move through life. In fact, a 2020 study from The Commonwealth Fund cites this collaborative approach to health care as vital to ensuring that women receive gender-specific, comprehensive care from adolescence through older adulthood.
Women’s integrated health care addresses issues that are unique to women but offers other services as well. By coordinating gynecological care with other types of exams and treatments, integrated care can provide women with a centralized, holistic source of assistance throughout their lives.
Women’s integrated care might include gynecological and obstetrical services along with other care options women commonly need as they age. This care can include services that target overall well-being such as:
- Hormone evaluation
- Nutritional, bone-loss, and metabolic assessments
- Social and emotional support
Pursue a Career That Embraces Holistic Care
Nursing professionals who want to provide the type of holistic care that comes with integrated health care should consider careers as nurse practitioners. These advanced practice registered nurses focus on the health, well-being, and individualized care of the whole person.
The Regis College online Master of Science in Nursing program can provide aspiring nurse practitioners with an education that emphasizes the holistic and collaborative skills needed for advanced nursing roles. The program offers several tracks that can prepare nurses for a variety of roles, including:
- Adult gerontology-primary care nurse practitioner
- Adult gerontology-acute care nurse practitioner
- Family nurse practitioner
- Pediatric nurse practitioner
- Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner
- Women’s health nurse practitioner
The program also offers the flexibility of online instruction while preparing students for nurse practitioner certification exams. Explore how the Regis online MSN program can help you develop your understanding of an integrated approach to health care.