Supporting integration through primary health care teams: A comparative policy analysis across four Canadian provinces

MSFHR is contributing match-funding towards Dr. Nelly Oelke’s research, awarded through SPOR Networks in Primary and Integrated Health Care Innovations – Provincial/ Territorial Comparative Program and Policy grant. Dr. Oelke is undertaking this pan-Canadian project across four provinces (BC, AB, ON, and QC) with a team of researchers including the following PIs: S. Montesanti (AB), S. Johnston (ON), and M. Breton (QC).

Primary health care (PHC) models in Canada continue to change. There are still many gaps in understanding what works and what doesn’t work for PHC teams, specifically, to promote integration and continuity of care for patients with complex needs (e.g. more than one chronic condition). The goal of this research is to study provincial and regional policy documents (guiding principles and courses of action) that support health services integration for patients with complex needs through PHC teams. Patient engagement in developing and applying policies will also be looked at.

This study will include three phases.

The results of this study will provide a better understanding of BC’s current policies for PHC teams, and how these support or create barriers to integrated health services delivery. It will also provide a better understanding of how BC patients and caregivers are involved in developing and applying policies in this area. Given BC’s focus on primary health care transformation, these will be most beneficial in supporting change.

Finally, the study will provide a set of leading national practices for integrated health services delivery through PHC teams that will be helpful to all participating provinces, other provinces in Canada, and internationally.

End of Award Update: May 2022

Most exciting outputs

1. Primary Health Care (PHC) teams need to be integrated at the individual level (at the point of care to improve patient’s care), PHC teams also need to be integrated at the health system level to facilitate integrated health services delivery.

2. Ontario was more advanced in terms of engaging patients in policy activities, however, patients, family members, and caregivers who were engaged had similar experiences in policy engagement across the provinces. Patients were more often engaged in the development of policy, but engagement throughout the policy process (development, implementation, and evaluation) was much less clear.

3. Three key themes were identified: motivation for policy engagement, experiences with policy engagement, and barriers to engagement in policy, such as opportunities for engagement, power imbalances, tokenism, bureaucracy, accessibility, racism, sexism, and ageism.

4. Training in policy for patients, family members, and caregivers is needed to be better engaged throughout the policy process.

5. Opportunities for patients, family, and caregivers to engage in policy should be increased to facilitate inclusiveness and increase the diversity of perspectives.

Impacts so far

Our policy analysis on PHC teams and integrated health services delivery in four provinces in Canada, is to our knowledge the first of its kind. Our research results have been shared and we have discussed the same with the Primary Care, BC Ministry of Health. We have also shared the results of patient engagement in PHC policy with various stakeholders via the Putting Patients First Conference and the Canadian Association for Health Services and Policy Research Conference. Policy analysis results were also shared with international audiences through conferences and publications.

Potential future influence

Our research results have the potential to improve integrated health services delivery through PHC teams and to increase patient, family member, and caregiver engagement in PHC policy. The findings of the study can be utilized by other projects investigating what really makes PHC teams work, and which also include a policy analysis as well.

Next steps 

Knowledge translation: A virtual national knowledge translation event with patients, researchers, policymakers, decision-makers, and providers to share the results, as well as gather feedback on the findings. We will also share the results via plain language summary, infographics, and publications in academic journals.

Useful links


Engaging Patients, Family Members, and Caregivers in Policy for Primary Health Care Teams Integration (Putting Patients First Conference, March 2022)