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What is Organizational Culture in Healthcare?

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At its roots, organizational culture in healthcare is vital for employees, patients, and overall success. It is a set of values, beliefs, and norms that shape how people behave in a healthcare setting.

These shared values create an environment where collaboration, communication, professionalism, respect for diversity, and innovation are critical components of day-to-day operations.

But why is this important, and how does culture in healthcare relate to safety, quality, and performance in the workplace? And will cultural changes lead to improvements in healthcare organizations?

It may not be evident because culture is typically seen as something related to society. However, within a workplace, having like-minded values and beliefs can make waves in how a healthcare organization performs.

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What Is Organizational Culture Healthcare?

To begin, there have been issues within the organizational culture of healthcare. For example, the negative culture within a healthcare organization is related to a lack of consideration for patients’ needs. If healthcare workers are overworked or low-staffed, for example, they may be rushed or lacking the detailed attention they need in order to take care of patients properly. 

If patients aren’t receiving quality service and are affected by the choices made within the organization, it can lead to adverse outcomes. Furthermore, organizational culture in healthcare is also linked to employee morale and productivity. With that, employees may feel uncomfortable with the practices, thus leading to a lack of productivity.

So what does all this mean? Ultimately, organizational culture in healthcare is framed in three layers. First and most apparent are the behaviors in which things are done within the organization.

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Visible Manifestations

This includes but isn’t limited to how equipment is used by staff and how the staff implements procedures. In addition, these behaviors can be seen as visible manifestations of the distribution of roles and services, the physical layouts of healthcare facilities, healthcare pathways, dress codes, reward systems, and more.

Share Ways of Thinking

The next layer of organizational culture in healthcare is the relation of shared ways of thinking within the workplace. These shared ways of thinking include values and beliefs to implement the visible manifestations mentioned above. This includes but is not limited to the expectations of how things should be done, such as safety, quality, clinical performance, and patient satisfaction.

Deeper Shared Assumptions

The last layer is taking the first two layers and making them into a more profound way of thinking that is unconscious expectations of day-to-day operations. These unconscious expectations are unspoken and often presuppositions of the organization’s operation. It encompasses the professional’s roles, expectations for patient care, and performance.

While these three layers of culture in healthcare organizations are linked, they can sometimes be implemented. For example, some of the more profound ways of thinking, or deeper values, are taught early in a healthcare professional’s career and reinforced throughout their career.

Other types of cultural manifestations are created by service configurations or reward systems that influence how healthcare professionals think and then develop deeper ways of thinking about what is essential to their work.

Organizational culture in healthcare is also how things are done and the justification of these protocols. Healthcare professionals need to understand why things are done a certain way to be effective in their jobs and ensure patients receive safe and quality service.

While a significant part of organizational culture is focused on the hospital environment, it goes deeper. The ideologies spread across all government, private sector, and volunteer/public sector healthcare organizations. In order for organizational culture in healthcare to improve, it takes shared understanding and communication of expectations across all sectors.

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Should Healthcare Have One Culture or Many Subcultures?

Within healthcare organizations, there are various subgroups separated by specialties, occupational groupings, hierarchies, and service areas. As a result, cultural ways of thinking can be widespread throughout the organization, or it can be limited from one subgroup to another.

This means that some organizations may have one unified culture, while others may take less effort to improve their culture and instead create different subcultures within the healthcare organization.

For example, doctors may take a strong focus on patient care and practices based on each individual instead of patients as a whole. Managers, on the other hand, may take a more wide-angle approach, thinking of patients as a group and the overall organization as a whole. Even nurses within different healthcare units will have a different culture, for example in the emergency room versus in pediatrics. 

Every subgroup plays a vital role in the organizational culture within healthcare. By working together and sharing different ways of thinking and expectations, healthcare organizations can improve their culture, thus, providing better patient care and employee productivity.

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Can Organizational Culture In Healthcare Be Managed?

There are two views of organizational culture in healthcare. First, cultural management can be seen as an optimistic approach to improving patient care and employee morale. This positive outlook implements constant action to improve organizational cultural values and beliefs.

In comparison, the second outlook on organizational culture focuses on organizational processes without considering steps to improve. It sees organizational culture as what the healthcare organization is in a nutshell without taking a deeper look into employee values, morals, and patient care.

Depending on which perspective a healthcare organization takes, the culture can improve in many aspects, such as patient safety, employee satisfaction, and overall performance.

With that, it’s easy to see that organizational culture in healthcare is essential for successful outcomes. However, healthcare cultures are complex, and there are many viewpoints as to what health service success looks like.

Nonetheless, there are links between healthy organizational cultures and improved quality of care, patient safety, and employee satisfaction. In order for cultures to improve, leadership needs to take action to reinforce these beliefs within healthcare facilities across multiple sectors.

Concluding Organizational Culture in Healthcare

Overall, organizational culture is complicated, and it’s important to pay attention to healthcare organizations’ multilayered nature. Healthcare organizations can improve the overall work environment and provide safe and quality patient care by being aware of visible manifestations, accepting shared ways of thinking, and reinforcing a deeper understanding of organizational culture.
Related: 10 Reasons Team Building at Work is Important

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