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Open Access Research article

Patient safety culture lives in departments and wards: Multilevel partitioning of variance in patient safety culture

Ellen Deilkås* and Dag Hofoss

Author Affiliations

Health Services Research Unit, Akershus University Hospital, Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:85  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-85

Published: 31 March 2010



Aim of study was to document 1) that patient safety culture scores vary considerably by hospital department and ward, and 2) that much of the variation is across the lowest level organizational units: the wards. Setting of study: 500-bed Norwegian university hospital, September-December 2006.


Data collected from 1400 staff by (the Norwegian version of) the generic version of the Safety Attitudes Questionnaire (SAQ Short Form 2006). Multilevel analysis by MLwiN version 1.10.


Considerable parts of the score variations were at the ward and department levels. More organization level variation was seen at the ward level than at the department level.


Patient safety culture improvement efforts should not be limited to all-hospital interventions or interventions aimed at entire departments, but include involvement at the ward level, selectively aimed at low-scoring wards. Patient safety culture should be studied as closely to the patient as possible. There may be such a thing as "hospital safety culture" and the variance across hospital departments indicates the existence of department safety cultures. However, neglecting the study of patient safety culture at the ward level will mask important local variations. Safety culture research and improvement should not stop at the lowest formal level of the hospital (wards, out-patient clinics, ERs), but proceed to collect and analyze data on the micro-units within them.