Regionalization in elderly care: what makes up a healthcare region?
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the formation and composition of “regions” as places of care, both empirically and conceptually. Design/methodology/approach: This paper draws on action-oriented research involving experiments aimed at designing, implementing and evaluating promising solutions to the entwined problems of a burgeoning elderly population and an increasing shortage of medical staff. It draws on ethnographic research conducted in 14 administrative areas in the Netherlands, a total of 273 in-depth interviews and over 1,000 h of observations. Findings: This research challenges the understanding of a healthcare region as a clearly bounded topological area. It shows that organizations and professionals collaborate in a variety of different networks, some conterminous with the administrative region established by policymakers and others not. These networks are by nature unstable and dynamic. Attempts to form new regional collaborations with neighbouring organizations are complicated by existing healthcare governance and accountability structures that position organizations as competitors. Practical implications: Policymakers should take the pre-established partnerships of healthcare organizations into account before delineating the area in which regionalization is meant to take place. A better alignment of governance and accountability structures is also needed for regionalization to occur in healthcare. Originality/value: This paper combines insights from valuation studies with sociogeographical literature and provides a framework for understanding the assembling and disassembling of “regions”.