This paper explores the concept of collaborative care, particularly in relation to a range of new models of organisation and service that are emerging in response to one of the most problematic areas of public policy – mental health. These emerging models of coordinated mental health care are testing the limits of the evidence supporting coordinated care, and require critical evaluation. Myriad concepts of collaborative or coordinated care in health, including mental health, have created multiple definitions. Once definitional issues have been surmounted, however, the evidence for coordination of health care is reasonably strong. There is considerable research about which treatments and programs are best for people with a mental illness. There are few areas seemingly as complex as mental health, given that responsibility for policy and service lies across all three tiers of Australian government and across multiple jurisdictions. It also engages public, private and non-government sectors. Co-morbidities are commonplace, particularly drug and alcohol problems among younger people.
Governments in Australia have traditionally taken responsibility for policy, programs and services, either as direct service providers or through contracting outputs from others. Yet the evidence indicates that for people with a mental illness, the best solutions are often not found in government but in the community and in organisations outside of government. New organisations and new structures are attempting more holistic management approaches, combining clinical care, community support, housing, employment and other services.
This paper considers some of these new models in the light of existing evidence. The key challenge facing continued reform in mental health is not uncertainty regarding programs or services, but rather how to drive coordinated care for consumers across departments, governments and providers. This review will highlight the key changes that must be made for the benefit of the millions of Australians with a mental illness. Such changes need to empower users of care systems to choose options that actively support coordinated and efficient care delivery systems.