Bumpy road: implementing integrated psychiatric and somatic care in joint-specialty emergency departments: a mixed-method study using Normalization Process Theory
Life expectancy is 15–20 years shorter for individuals with than for people without mental illness. Assuming that undiagnosed and undertreated somatic conditions are significant causes, the Central Denmark Region set out to implement joint psychiatric and somatic emergency departments (EDs) to support integrated psychiatric/somatic care as an effort to prolong the lifetime of individuals with mental illness. Through the lens of Normalization Process Theory, the authors examine healthcare frontline staff’s perceptions of and work with the implementation of integrated psychiatric/somatic care in the first joint-specialty ED in Denmark.
A single-case mixed-methods study using Normalization Process Theory (NPT) as an analytic framework to evaluate implementation of psychiatric/somatic integrated care (IC) in a joint-specialty emergency department. Data were generated from observations, qualitative interviews and questionnaires distributed to the frontline staff.
Implementation was characterized by a diffuse normalization leading to an adaption of the IC in a fuzzy alignment with existing practice. Especially, confusion among the staff regarding how somatic examination in the ED would ensure prolonged lifetime for people with mental illness was a barrier to sense-making and development of coherence among the staff. The staff questioned the accuracy of IC in the ED even though they recognized the need for better somatic care for individuals with mental illness.
This study highlights that a focus on outcomes (prolonging lifetime for people with mental illness and reducing stigmatization) can be counterproductive. Replacing the outcome focus with an output focus, in terms of how to develop and implement psychiatric/somatic IC with the patient perspective at the center, would probably be more productive.
In 2020, the Danish Health Authorities published new whole-system recommendations for emergency medicine (EM) highlighting the need for intensifying integrated intra and interorganizational care including psychiatric/somatic IC (ref). Even though this study is not conclusive, it points to subjects that can help to identify resources needed to implement psychiatric/somatic IC and to pitfalls. The authors argue that the outcome focus, prolonging the lifetime for individuals with mental illness by identifying somatic illness, was counterproductive. In accordance with the recommendations of contemporary implementation studies, the authors recommend a shift in focus from outcome to output focus; how to develop and implement psychiatric/somatic IC.