Continuity across inpatient and outpatient mental health care or specialisation of teams? A systematic review
S. Omer, S. Priebe, D. Giacco
29 September 2014
A central question for the organisation of mental health care is whether the same clinicians should be responsible for a patient's care across inpatient and outpatient settings (continuity of care) or if there should be separate teams (specialisation). Current reforms in Europe are inconsistent on which to favour, and are based on little research evidence. This review is the first systematic appraisal of the existing evidence comparing continuity of care and specialisation across inpatient and outpatient mental health care.
A systematic search for studies of any design comparing mental health care systems based on continuity or specialisation of care was performed. Differences in clinical, social and cost-effective outcomes, and the views and experiences of patients and staff were assessed using narrative synthesis.
Seventeen studies met the inclusion criteria. All studies had methodological shortcomings, but findings point towards reduced length and number of hospitalisations, and faster or more flexible transitions between services in continuity systems. Survey and qualitative findings suggest advantages of both systems, whilst patients and staff appear to prefer a continuity system.
The evidence base suggests better outcomes and stakeholder preferences for continuity of care systems, but the quality of existing studies is insufficient to draw definitive conclusions. Higher quality comparative studies across various settings and population groups are urgently needed.