• care transitions;
  • community services for older people;
  • health services research;
  • hospital utilisation;
  • integrated care;
  • patient experience


Good integration of services that aim to reduce avoidable acute hospital bed use by older people requires frontline staff to be aware of service options and access them in a timely manner. In three localities where closer inter-organisational integration was taking place, this research sought patients’ perceptions of the care received across and within organisational boundaries. Between February and July 2008, qualitative methods were used to map the care journeys of 18 patients (six from each site). Patient interviews (46) covered care received before, at the time of and following a health crisis. Additional interviews (66) were undertaken with carers and frontline staff. Grounded theory-based approaches showed examples of well-integrated care against a background of underuse of services for preventing health crises and a reliance on ‘traditional’ referral patterns and services at the time of a health crisis. There was scope to raise both practitioner and patient awareness of alternative care options and to expand the availability and visibility of care ‘closer to home’ services such as rapid response teams. Concerns voiced by patients centred on the adequacy of arrangements for organising ongoing care, while family members reported being excluded from discussions about care arrangements and the roles they were expected to play. The coordination of care was also affected by communication difficulties between practitioners (particularly across organisational boundaries) and a lack of compatible technologies to facilitate information sharing. Finally, closer organisational integration seemed to have limited impact on care at the patient/practitioner interface. To improve care experienced by patients, organisational integration needs to be coupled with vertical integration within organisations to ensure that strategic goals influence the actions of frontline staff. As they experience the complete care journey, feedback from patients can play an important role in the service redesign agenda.