Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 14, Iss. 4, October, 2010, pp. 525-540
@2010 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


The Dynamics of Health Care Reform - Learning from a Complex Adaptive Systems Theoretical Perspective

Joachim P. Sturmberg, Monash University, Melbourne and Newcastle University, Newcastle
Carmel M. Martin, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Canada

Abstract: Health services demonstrate key features of complex adaptive systems (CAS), they are dynamic and unfold in unpredictable ways, and unfolding events are often unique. To better understand the complex adaptive nature of health systems around a core attractor we propose the metaphor of the health care vortex. We also suggest that in an ideal health care system the core attractor would be personal health attainment. Health care reforms around the world offer an opportunity to analyse health system change from a complex adaptive perspective. At large health care reforms have been pursued disregarding the complex adaptive nature of the health system. The paper details some recent reforms and outlines how to understand their strategies and outcomes, and what could be learnt for future efforts, utilising CAS principles. Current health systems show the inherent properties of a CAS driven by a core attractor of disease and cost containment. We content that more meaningful health systems reform requires the delicate task of shifting the core attractor from disease and cost containment towards health attainment.

Keywords: nonlinear dynamics, health care reform, metaphors, complex adaptive systems, health