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Psychiatry. 1988 May;51(2):211-20.

System dynamics in complex psychiatric treatment organizations.

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West Haven Veterans Administration Medical Center, CT 06516.


One of the major challenges facing contemporary psychiatry is the coordination of diverse services through organizational integration. With increasing frequency, psychiatric treatment takes place in complex treatment systems composed of multiple inpatient and outpatient programs. Particularly in public health care systems serving the chronically ill, contemporary practice demands a broad spectrum of programs, often geographically dispersed, that include crisis intervention teams, day treatment programs, substance abuse units, social rehabilitation programs and halfway houses (Bachrach 1983; Turner and TenHoor 1978). Individualized treatment planning often requires that a particular patient participate in two or more specialized programs either simultaneously or in a specified sequence. As a consequence of this specialization, treatment fragmentation has emerged as a significant clinical problem, and continuity of care has been highlighted as a valuable but elusive ingredient of optimal treatment. This paper will describe the dynamic interactions that result when several such programs are united under a common organizational roof. Using a large VA Psychiatry Service as an example, I will outline the hierarchical structure characteristic of such an organization, as well as the persistent pulls toward both integration and fragmentation that influence its operation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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