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© 2019 The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: This commentary highlights the importance of health system responsiveness to older people living with complex health needs. Age-related changes and associated morbidity can present barriers to identifying an individual's health needs, expectations, values and preferences, and so sufficient time, skill and resource is required to inform the development of a tailored plan for each individual. A focus on responsiveness moves thinking beyond the responsibilities of the individual clinician in the single encounter, and allows us to identify elements of the wider system that may constrain how well the clinician is able to respond. Setting the goal of responsive health care requires us to assess the suitability of wider health system features and processes for meeting the diverse needs of individual people throughout their journey, and the extent to which the system can adapt dynamically as needs change. Standardised approaches to care prescribed across organisations (such as time-based targets or routinised approaches to inpatient nursing care) are likely to result in low responsiveness as individual complexity grows, disadvantaging patients with needs that do not fit the prescribed approach. Responsiveness is high when individual practitioners and clinical teams have the resources, decentralised authority, flexibility and autonomy to provide the care required. Building a more responsive health system requires a greater understanding of how these conditions can be achieved.

Original publication




Journal article


Age and Ageing

Publication Date





785 - 788