A resilience view on health system resilience: a scoping review of empirical studies and reviews

Samantha Copeland, Saba Hinrichs-Krapels, Federica Fecondo, Esteban Ralon Santizo, Roland Bal, Tina Comes

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BACKGROUND: Prompted by recent shocks and stresses to health systems globally, various studies have emerged on health system resilience. Our aim is to describe how health system resilience is operationalised within empirical studies and previous reviews. We compare these to the core conceptualisations and characteristics of resilience in a broader set of domains (specifically, engineering, socio-ecological, organisational and community resilience concepts), and trace the different schools, concepts and applications of resilience across the health literature. METHODS: We searched the Pubmed database for concepts related to 'resilience' and 'health systems'. Two separate analyses were conducted for included studies: a total of n = 87 empirical studies on health system resilience were characterised according to part of health systems covered, type of threat, resilience phase, resilience paradigm, and approaches to building resilience; and a total of n = 30 reviews received full-text review and characterised according to type of review, resilience concepts identified in the review, and theoretical framework or underlying resilience conceptualisation. RESULTS: The intersection of health and resilience clearly has gained importance in the academic discourse with most papers published since 2018 in a variety of journals and in response to external threats, or in reference to more frequent hospital crisis management. Most studies focus on either resilience of health systems generally (and thereby responding to an external shock or stress), or on resilience within hospitals (and thereby to regular shocks and operations). Less attention has been given to community-based and primary care, whether formal or informal. While most publications do not make the research paradigm explicit, 'resilience engineering' is the most prominent one, followed by 'community resilience' and 'organisational resilience'. The social-ecological systems roots of resilience find the least application, confirming our findings of the limited application of the concept of transformation in the health resilience literature. CONCLUSIONS: Our review shows that the field is fragmented, especially in the use of resilience paradigms and approaches from non-health resilience domains, and the health system settings in which these are used. This fragmentation and siloed approach can be problematic given the connections within and between the complex and adaptive health systems, ranging from community actors to local, regional, or national public health organisations to secondary care. Without a comprehensive definition and framework that captures these interdependencies, operationalising, measuring and improving resilience remains challenging.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1297
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Community resilience
  • Health systems
  • Resilience
  • Resilience engineering
  • Socio-ecological resilience


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