A Case for Open Network Health Systems: Systems as Networks in Public Mental Health

Document Type : Perspective


1 Mind Venture International, Maastricht, The Netherlands

2 Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and CAPHRI Research School, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands


Increases in incidents involving so-called confused persons have brought attention to the potential costs of recent changes to public mental health (PMH) services in the Netherlands. Decentralized under the (Community) Participation Act (2014), local governments must find resources to compensate for reduced central funding to such services or “innovate.” But innovation, even when pressure for change is intense, is difficult. This perspective paper describes experience during and after an investigation into a particularly violent incident and murder. The aim was to provide recommendations to improve the functioning of local PMH services. The investigation concluded that no specific failure by an individual professional or service provider facility led to the murder. Instead, also as a result of the Participation Act that severed communication lines between individuals and organizations, information sharing failures were likely to have reduced system level capacity to identify risks. The methods and analytical frameworks employed to reach this conclusion, also lead to discussion as to the plausibility of an unconventional solution. If improving communication is the primary problem, non-hierarchical information, and organizational networks arise as possible and innovative system solutions. The proposal for debate is that traditional “health system” definitions, literature and narratives, and operating assumptions in public (mental) health are ‘locked in’ constraining technical and organization innovations. If we view a “health system” as an adaptive system of economic and social “networks,” it becomes clear that the current orthodox solution, the so-called integrated health system, typically results in a “centralized hierarchical” or “tree” network. An overlooked alternative that breaks out of the established policy narratives is the view of a ‘health systems’ as a non-hierarchical organizational structure or ‘Open Network.’ In turn, this opens new technological and organizational possibilities in seeking policy solutions, and suggests an alternative governance model of huge potential value in public health both locally and globally.




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Main Subjects



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  • Receive Date: 06 October 2016
  • Revise Date: 03 January 2017
  • Accept Date: 03 January 2017
  • First Publish Date: 01 March 2017