Intergroup communication between hospital doctors: implications for quality of patient care

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Dec;69(12):1732-40. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.09.048. Epub 2009 Oct 21.


Hospitals involve a complex socio-technical health system, where communication failures influence the quality of patient care. Research indicates the importance of social identity and intergroup relationships articulated through power, control, status and competition. This study focused on interspecialty communication among doctors for patients requiring the involvement of multiple specialist departments. The paper reports on an interview study in Australia, framed by social identity and communication accommodation theories of doctors' experiences of managing such patients, to explore the impact of communication. Interviews were undertaken with 45 doctors working in a large metropolitan hospital, and were analysed using Leximancer (text mining software) and interpretation of major themes. Findings indicated that intergroup conflict is a central influence on communication. Contested responsibilities emerged from a model of care driven by single-specialty ownership of the patient, with doctors allowed to evade responsibility for patients over whom they had no sense of ownership. Counter-accommodative communication, particularly involving interpersonal control, appeared as important for reinforcing social identity and winning conflicts. Strategies to resolve intergroup conflict must address structural issues generating an intergroup climate and evoke interpersonal salience to moderate their effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Australia
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Data Mining
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Patient Care Management
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*
  • Physician's Role
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Social Identification