The pace of hospital life: a mixed methods study

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The pace-of-life hypothesis is a socio-psychological theory postulating that citizens of different cities transact the business of life at varying paces, and this pace is associated with a number of population level variables. Here we apply the pace-of-life hypothesis to a hospital context to empirically test the association between pace and patient and staff outcomes. As pressure on hospitals grow and pace increases to keep up with demand, is there empirical evidence of a trade-off between a rapid pace and poorer outcomes? We collected data from four large Australian hospitals, inviting all staff (clinical and non-clinical) to complete a survey, and conducted a series of observations of hospital staff's walking pace and transactional pace. From these data we constructed three measures of pace: staff perception of pace, transactional pace, and walking pace. Outcome measures included: hospital culture, perceived patient safety, and staff well-being outcomes of job satisfaction and burnout. Overall, participants reported experiencing a “fast-paced” “hurried” and “rapid” pace-of-life working in the Australian hospital sector. We found a significant difference in perceived pace across four hospital sites, similar to trends observed for transactional pace. This provides support that the pace-of-life hypothesis may apply to the hospital context. We tested associations between faster perceived pace, hospital culture, staff well-being and patient safety. Results revealed perceived faster pace significantly predicted negative perceptions of organizational culture, greater burnout and lower job satisfaction. However, perceived pace did not predict perceptions of patient safety. Different perceptions of hospital pace-of-life were found between different clinical settings and the type of care delivered; staff working in emergency departments reported significantly “faster-paced” work environments than staff working in palliative, aged care, or rehabilitation wards.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0255775
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8 August
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

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Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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