Aims. This paper reports a study to investigate the relationships between informal and formal care, changing relationships over time, impact of integrated care, and theoretical and methodological lessons that can be drawn from research on this topic.
Background. The ratio of informal to formal care provided in nursing homes varies. In many countries the predominance of traditional, formal care is being challenged by the emergence of integrated care models in which formal and informal caregivers co-operate and co-ordinate their activities to deliver tailor-made care. This move towards integrated care is likely to result in changes in the degree and nature of involvement of formal and informal caregivers in care activities. However, very little research has investigated this. Previous research is restricted to one point in time, as opposed to focussing on the changing relationships between formal and informal caregivers over time.
Methods. The quasi-experimental design encompassed a traditional care comparison setting and an experimental setting with an integrated care intervention. At three measurement points, one before the intervention in May/June 2000 and two at 6 and 14 months after the intervention, informal and formal caregivers recorded their care activities. Informal care relationships were determined by calculating contribution rates and informal/formal care ratios for 14 activities.
Results. Integrated care did not bring about the expected major changes. There was a limited amount of substitution of formal care with informal care. There were limited changes in the extent of dual specialization, in which informal and formal caregivers perform separate activities. There was little supplementation of formal care with informal care. Furthermore, relationships changed over time, resulting in a complex pattern of linkages at the level of separate activities.
Conclusions. Informal caregivers contribute to many activities. The impact of integrated care on the degree and nature of involvement, however, was moderate. A possible explanation is the contextual situation for nursing home care. These findings point to the need for further research into the (changing) relationship between formal and informal carers in residential care activities and the evolution of this relationship over time.