What is care coordination?

Ellen M. Schultz, Kathryn M. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Introduction: Care coordination is a high-priority area for improvement across healthcare systems, but no consensus definition of care coordination exists. Methods: This article reviews published definitions of the term “care coordination,” identifies common themes among them, and presents a broad working definition of care coordination. Results: The review identified 57 unique definitions of care coordination, ranging widely in the scope of participants, settings, and care processes included. Five major themes emerged from the definitions: care coordination involves numerous participants, is necessitated by interdependence among participants and activities, requires knowledge of others’ roles and resources, relies on information exchange, and aims to facilitate appropriate healthcare delivery. Only one definition identified included all five themes, and no one theme was found in a clear majority of definitions. The synthesized themes were incorporated into a broad working definition of care coordination, which has resulted in numerous uses (e.g. guide for systematic review of interventions, development of a measures repository, reference for this journal’s recast focus on the subject). Discussion: Some ambiguity remains about the definition of care coordination, but the breadth of definitions in use underscores its widespread recognition as important for high-quality care. Even as understanding of care coordination continues to evolve, broad and flexible definitions can help guide the iterative process of developing conceptual models, testing them empirically, refining models, generating evidence about what works best, and ultimately improving the quality of care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA002
Pages (from-to)5-24
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Care Coordination
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Care coordination
  • Healthcare systems
  • Quality of care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Health Policy


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