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Space, time and demographic change: A geographical approach to integrating health and social care

Hamish Robertson (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Integrated Care

ISSN: 1476-9018

Article publication date: 13 February 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential value of applying spatial science and technology to the issue of care integration across what are the often fragmented domains of health and social care provision. The issue of focus for this purpose is population ageing because it challenges existing information and practice silos. Better integration, the author proposes, needs to adopt a geographic approach to deal with the challenges that population ageing present to health and social care as they currently function in many countries.


The approach utilised here explores the role that could be played by enhancing spatial perspectives in care integration. Spatial and temporal strategies need to be coordinated to produce systems of integrated care that are needed to meet the needs of growing numbers of older people.


The author’s premise is that, with some rare exceptions, geographies of care are needed to address important shifts in demography such as population ageing and their epidemiological consequences. The rising intersection between the ageing and disability concepts illustrates how the fluid nature of health and social care client groups will challenge existing systems and their presuppositions. Health and medical geography offer a theoretical and practical response to some of these emerging problems.

Research limitations/implications

This is a brief conceptual piece in favour of integrating geographic concepts and methods in the context of changing demography and the social, economic and service implications of such changes. It is limited in scope and a more detailed explanation would be required for a proof of concept.

Practical implications

Practically we know that all human services vary across space as do both healthcare and related social services and supports. Issues of quality and safety are numerous in these policy domains generally, with aged care evidencing a growing number of problems and challenges. Being able to inquire on significant challenges in health and social care through a spatial lens has the potential to provide another, highly practical, kind of evidence in this field of work. This lens is, the author contends, very poorly integrated into either health or social care at present. However, doing so would have a variety of useful outcomes for monitoring and intervening on real problems in care integration. An example could be “frequent flyers” in emergency departments as has been done in Camden, New Jersey through patient mapping.

Social implications

The author’s position in this paper is that the challenges we face in providing integrated care to ageing and increasingly disabled (including both physical and cognitive impairments) populations will only grow in the face of variable governmental responses and increasingly complex funding and service provider arrangements. Without a geographical perspective and the concepts and tools of spatial science the author does not see an adequate response emerging. The shift to community-based care for many groups, including the aged, means that location will become more important rather than less so. This is a societal concern of major proportions and the very concept of integrated care requires of us a geographical perspective.


This is a short but, the author believes, conceptually rich piece with a variety of potential practical implications for health and social care service provision. Issues of equity, quality, safety and even basic access can only grow as population ageing progresses and various forms of chronic disease and disability continue to grow. Knowing where the most affected people and their social and service connections are located will support better integration. And better integration may resolve some of the financial and related resource problems that are already evident but which can only continue to increase. In this context, the author suggests that the integrated care of the future needs to be geographically informed to be effective.



Robertson, H. (2017), "Space, time and demographic change: A geographical approach to integrating health and social care", Journal of Integrated Care, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 39-48.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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