Research Alert

Background: The integrated health management system (IHMS), which unites all health care–related institutions under a health-centered organizational framework, is of great significance to China in promoting the hierarchical treatment system and improving the new health care reform. China’s IHMS policy consists of multiple policies at different levels and at different times; however, there is a lack of comprehensive interpretation and analysis of these policies, which is not conducive to the further development of the IHMS in China. Objective: This study aims to comprehensively analyze and understand the characteristics, development, and evolution of China’s IHMS policy to inform the design and improvement of the system. Methods: We followed the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines to collect 152 policy documents. With the perspective of policy tools and policy orientation as the core, a comprehensive 6D framework including policy level, policy nature, release time, policy tools, stakeholders, and policy orientation was established by combining the content of policy texts. These dimensions were then analyzed using content analysis. Results: First, we found that, regarding the coordination of policy tools and stakeholders, China’s IHMS policy was more inclined to use environment-based policy tools (1089/1929, 56.45%), which suggests a need for further balance in the internal structure of policy tools. Attention to different actors varied, and the participation of physicians and residents needs further improvement (65/2019, 3.22% and 11/2019, 0.54%, respectively). Second, in terms of level differences, Shanghai’s IHMS policy used fewer demand-based policy tools (43/483, 8.9%), whereas the national IHMS policy and those of other provinces and cities used fewer supply-based tools (61/357, 17.1% and 248/357, 69.5%, respectively). The national IHMS strategy placed more emphasis on the construction of smart health care (including digital health; 10/275, 3.6%), whereas Shanghai was a leader in the development of healthy community and healthy China (9/158, 5.7% and 4/158, 2.5%, respectively). Third, in terms of time evolution, the various policy tools showed an increasing and then decreasing trend from 2014 to 2021, with relatively more use of environment-based policy tools and less use of demand-based policy tools in the last 3 years. The growth of China’s IHMS policy can be divided into 3 stages: the disease-centered period (2014-2017), the e-health technology development period (2017-2019), and the health-centered period (2018-2021). Conclusions: Policy makers should make several adjustments, such as coordinating policy tools and the uneven relationships among stakeholders; grasping key policy priorities in the context of local characteristics; and focusing on horizontal, multidimensional integration of health resources starting from the community. This study expands the objects of policy research and improves the framework for policy analysis. The findings provide some possible lessons for future policy formulation and optimization.

Journal Link: Journal of Medical Internet Research