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What Is the Role of Organizational Culture in Healthcare?

By Nicky Sutton
Updated May 16, 2024
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Part of organizational psychology attempts to address cultures within organizations, and how they form and change. Organizational culture in healthcare is formed from the collective and overriding attitudes, values and behaviors of workers at all levels. Although subcultures exist within healthcare organizations, culture in general affects the quality of healthcare patients receive due to cultural attitudes to things like cleanliness, timeliness, respect and dignity. Organizational culture also affects an organization's ability to perform and be financially viable. If workers within the culture have an attitude conducive to underperforming and making errors, then the patients and the organization itself will be negatively affected.

Organizational culture varies between different healthcare organizations and practices. The culture within an organization is created by the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the people who work within it. Organizational culture in healthcare cannot be seen or measured but can be experienced by watching and listening to the individuals at work.

An idea of organizational culture can be gauged by the collective extent to which workers are motivated, take risks, communicate and work with others. It is seen in the workers’ attitudes to their colleagues and patients, and their positive or negative behaviors. Organizational culture in healthcare can be described as the collective personality, values and behaviors of the workers within an organization.

The role of organizational culture in healthcare includes the ability to create a quality healthcare service. Workers who have good personal values about aspects that make good healthcare will naturally exhibit working behaviors conducive to quality healthcare. For example, a manager who believes in the ethos of person centered care, care that revolves around the needs of the individual rather than the needs of the organization, will instill those concepts in subordinates.

Quality healthcare is also influenced by cultural values such as workers’ attitudes toward treating patients, waiting times, dignity and respect. If the culture within the organization is that of hard work, care and respect, then patients will feel the benefits. An organizational culture where it is considered acceptable to leave patients waiting for hours in unsanitary conditions will produce very poor healthcare.

Resources are generally scarce and fiercely contended for in healthcare, hence a culture of efficiency, waste reduction and financial planning will streamline services, reducing costs. Overall performance of healthcare organizations is affected by their organizational culture. Measures such as numbers of patients treated and survival rates can be improved with a culture of hard work, attention to detail and efficiency. Managers can help foster good organizational culture by offering rewards and promotions, promoting teamwork or individual initiative, and having a positive attitude to change and improvement.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1005299 — On Jul 31, 2021

@Discographer: As a healthcare professional for the past 10 years working in long-term and nursing home facilities, the culture does develop on its own in a way. I have found that although an organization lays out a full-page vision it ultimately comes down to a few items. What I have seen is the culture grows and develops daily based upon the attitudes of the staff that works there. If they treat it like family then there will be a family feeling, or if the staff doesn't care or they really don't want to be there for whatever reason, then the attitude will be slightly aggressive or repressed.

Regardless of what the staff feels for the organization or just the workplace, the residents or patients will feel it too. The culture doesn't just evolve from the floor staff but it also comes from the administration and everybody involved in the daily operations. Whenever I was in the supervisor position, my usual outlook to my co-workers was this "we are all adults working here. we all know what our job and duties are and what is expected of us. we are not working alone. If anyone needs help ask for it, if anyone needs advice ask for it. No matter what you think you know, there might be someone else working with you that knows more or is different. we are a team and if we work together long enough we will become a family". I am still humble enough to admit that I still have more to learn. So when we all work together and work towards the common goal of patient safety and well-being that is when the culture develops.

By stoneMason — On Jul 01, 2014

Organizational culture is important at every company. But I think it's even more important in the healthcare system because it affects the quality of the health services provided to patients. So it is far more important that the organizational culture in healthcare is up to standards. Does anyone disagree?

By ysmina — On Jun 30, 2014

@discographer-- Of course it doesn't develop on its own. The founders and directors of the institution help shape organizational culture by establishing certain rules and protocols. They also decide whom they hire and people who understand and work in accordance with the organization's culture will be hired. So the organizational culture has a lot to do with the directors' values, ideals and expectations.

The employees help shape organizational culture too. There may be cases where the organizational culture of a hospital is turning out to be different than what the founders had envisioned or approved. In this situation, the directors of the hospital need to make some structural and operational changes to make sure that the organizational culture matches the vision and mission of the hospital.

It's a good idea to look at organizational culture in healthcare institution by institution. Because no two institutions are exactly the same.

By discographer — On Jun 30, 2014

I'm a little confused about healthcare organizational culture. I understand that it's the collective personality of a healthcare institution. But how does this collective personality come about? Does it develop on its own?

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