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Improving patient safety culture

Johan Hellings (Hospital East Limburg and University Hasselt, Genk, Belgium)
Ward Schrooten (Faculty of Business Economics, Hasselt University, Genk, Belgium)
Niek S. Klazinga (Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Arthur Vleugels (Center for Health Services and Nursing Research, Leuven University, Leuven, and Faculty of Business Economics, Hasselt University, Genk, Belgium)

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Article publication date: 15 June 2010




Improving hospital patient safety means an open and stimulating culture is needed. This article aims to describe a patient safety culture improvement approach in five Belgian hospitals.


Patient safety culture was measured using a validated Belgian adaptation of the Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture (HSOPSC) questionnaire. Studies before (autumn 2005) and after (spring 2007) the improvement approach was implemented were completed. Using HSOPSC, safety culture was measured using 12 dimensions. Results are presented as evolving dimension scores.


Overall, 3,940 and 3,626 individuals responded respectively to the first and second surveys (overall response rate was 77 and 68 percent respectively). After an 18 to 26 month period, significant improvement was observed for the “hospital management support for patient safety” dimension – all main effects were found to be significant. Regression analysis suggests there is a significant difference between professional subgroups. In one hospital the “supervisor expectations and actions promoting safety” improved. The dimension “teamwork within hospital units” received the highest scores in both surveys. There was no improvement and sometimes declining scores in the lowest scoring dimensions: “hospital transfers and transitions”, “non‐punitive response to error”, and “staffing”.

Research limitations/implications

The five participating hospitals were not randomly selected and therefore no representative conclusions can be made for the Belgian hospital sector as a whole. Only a quantitative approach to measuring safety culture was used. Qualitative approaches, focussing on specific safety cultures in specific parts of the participating hospitals, were not used.

Practical implications

Although much needs to be done on the road towards better hospital patient safety, the study presents lessons from various perspectives. It illustrates that hospital staff are highly motivated to participate in measuring patient safety culture. Safety domains that urgently need improvement in these hospitals are identified: hospital transfers and transitions; non‐punitive response to error; and staffing. It confirms that realising progress in patient safety culture, demonstrating at the same time that it is possible to improve management support, is complex.


Safety is an important service quality aspect. By measuring safety culture in hospitals, with a validated questionnaire, dimensions that need improvement were revealed thereby contributing to an enhancement plan.



Hellings, J., Schrooten, W., Klazinga, N.S. and Vleugels, A. (2010), "Improving patient safety culture", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 23 No. 5, pp. 489-506.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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