Implementing culture change in health care: theory and practice

Int J Qual Health Care. 2003 Apr;15(2):111-8. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzg021.


Objectives: To review some of the key debates relating to the nature of organizational culture and culture change care organizations and systems.

Methods: A literature review was conducted that covered both theoretical contributions and published studies of the processes and outcomes of culture change programmes across a range of health and non-health care settings.

Results: There is little consensus among scholars over the precise meaning of organizational culture. Competing claims exist concerning whether organizational cultures are capable of being shaped by external manipulation to beneficial effect. A range of culture change models has been developed. A number of underlying factors that commonly attenuate culture change programmes can be identified. Key factors that appear to impede culture change across a range of sectors include: inadequate or inappropriate leadership; constraints imposed by external stakeholders and professional allegiances; perceived lack of ownership; and subcultural diversity within health care organizations and systems.

Conclusions: Managing organizational culture is increasingly viewed as an essential part of health system reform. To transform the culture of a whole health system such as the UK National Health Service would be a complex, multi-level, and uncertain process, comprising a range of interlocking strategies and supporting tactics unfolding over a period of years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Care Reform / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Care Management / organization & administration*
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • State Medicine / organization & administration*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States