Ethical challenges of integration across primary and secondary care: a qualitative and normative analysis
Authors: Alex McKeown
This paper explores ethical concerns arising in healthcare integration. We argue that integration is necessary imperative for meeting contemporary and future healthcare challenges, a far stronger evidence base for the conditions of its effectiveness is required. In particular, given the increasing emphasis at the policy level for the entire healthcare infrastructure to become better integrated, our analysis of the ethical challenges that follow from the logic of integration itself is timely and important and has hitherto received insufficient attention.
We evaluated an educational intervention which aims to improve child health outcomes by making transitions between primary to secondary care more efficient, ensuring children and parents are better supported throughout. The programme provided skills for trainee paediatricians and general practitioners (GPs) in co-designing integrated clinical services.
The key ethical challenges of integrated care that arose from a clinical perspective are: professional identity and autonomy in an integrated working environment; the concomitant extent of professional responsibility in such an environment; and the urgent need for more evidence to be produced on which strategies for integrating at scale can be based.
From our analysis we suggest a tentative way forward, viewed from a normative position broadly situated at the intersection of deontology and care ethics. We adopt this position because the primary clinical ethical issues in the context of integrated care concern: how to ensure that all duties of care to individual patients are met in a newly orientated working environment where clinical responsibility may be ambiguous; and the need to orientate care around the patient by foregrounding their autonomous preferences and ensuring good patient clinician relationships in clinical decision-making.