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OBJECTIVES: The social ties people have with one another are known to influence behaviour, and how information is accessed and interpreted. It is unclear, however, how the social networks that exist in multi-professional health care workplaces might be used to improve quality in hospitals. This paper develops explanatory theory using realist synthesis to illuminate the details and significance of the social ties between health care workers. Specifically we ask: How, why, for whom, to what extent and in what context, do the social ties of staff within a hospital influence quality of service delivery, including quality improvement? METHODS: From a total of 75 included documents identified through an extensive systematic literature search, data were extracted and analysed to identify emergent explanatory statements. RESULTS: The synthesis found that within the hospital workforce, an individual's place in the social whole can be understood across four identified domains: (1) social group, (2) hierarchy, (3) bridging distance and (4) discourse. Thirty-five context-mechanism-outcome configurations were developed across these domains. CONCLUSIONS: The relative position of individual health care workers within the overall social network in hospitals is associated with influence and agency. As such, power to bring about change is inequitably and socially situated, and subject to specific contexts. The findings of this realist synthesis offer a lens through which to understand social ties in hospitals. The findings can help identify possible strategies for intervention to improve communication and distribution of power, for individual, team and wider multi-professional behavioural change in hospitals.

Original publication




Journal article


J Health Serv Res Policy

Publication Date





242 - 252


Delivery of Health Care, Hospitals, Humans, Personnel, Hospital, Quality Improvement, Social Networking