Navigating Power Dynamics in Healthcare

February 22, 2021


Fusion Medical Staffing

GettyImages-1441979374-minPower dynamics are the ways in which people relate and interact with each other with different social queues and end goals. In the workplace, power dynamics help define different intentions between coworkers, and in healthcare, those outcomes affect not only the medical professionals participating, but the outcomes of patients being treated.


Navigating Power Dynamics in Healthcare


How power plays out at work

Defining power dynamics in the workplace can be tricky. For one thing, a competition for power can be viewed as a problem in the workplace.

“Team power dynamics represent the reality that with any team or group of people, there’s a finite amount of power available to get things done and make things happen according to one’s agenda,” explains Dr. Greg Barnett, Senior Vice President of Science for The Predictive Index.

“In that way, power is really a resource people have to compete for, and they compete for it in very different ways. Some people use charisma and charm, others are more forceful and assertive, while still others use facts and figures to wrestle power back. What this means in a team situation, such as a meeting where decisions are being made, is there’s an invisible and unspoken battle being waged by people with different goals and agendas, trying to influence the result.”

But power dynamics can also be a force of good, used to build positive relationships and foster a sense of trust with coworkers.


Building trust with coworkers on and off your team

Positive power dynamics help medical professionals work in their field effectively and encourage them to garner influence among coworkers to help build trust. These types of relationships create an equal professional status and gives confidence to teams to promote equality and importance.

Trust is a way of handling risk in the delivery of collaborative healthcare that crosses organizational and professional boundaries. It involves the expectation that other parties will behave in ways that are predictable and fair, that they are competent, and will not engage in opportunistic behavior.

The downside of conflict in healthcare facilities

Power dynamics can be positive, but they can also cause many problems in a healthcare environment. Conflict between medical professionals is prevalent, especially between hierarchies like nurses and physicians, and between role diversity like temporary staff versus permanent staff. Permanent staff may feel as if they have a higher standing on their healthcare teams over a traveling medical professional, who is there for approximately 13 weeks. The problem of seeing permanence as power is that team members fail to understand the value and help a Traveler offers to the team.

Bullying, escalation, and lack of cooperation increase the barriers among team members and create new obstacles in positive communication. In a healthcare environment, the single approach of decision making sometimes leads to failed decisions, which is detrimental to the patient. Comparatively, group decision making outcomes are stable and strong, with positive outcomes.


Quality patient care suffers when power dynamics are not controlled

Healthcare providers, traveling medical professionals, and other healthcare staff cannot perform their tasks effectively when power dynamics are not controlled within the healthcare system, affecting the delivery of primary and community-based health services. Furthermore, if there isn’t a mutual understanding between patient and provider, patient health suffers. A good relationship between both staff and patients all around can create better care outcomes and deliver on value-based care priorities.


How can different healthcare teams work together to provide better patient care?

Communication and teamwork skills in medical teams are important for providing quality patient care. When clinical and nonclinical staff collaborate, they can improve patient healthcare outcomes, prevent medical errors, improve efficiency, and increase patient satisfaction effectively. Medical teams should communicate and work in collaboration to minimize the risk of errors and improve patient safety and upgrade clinical performance. Different medical teams should share essential information about patient history to encourage better planning in treatment options. This empowers both teams to have a better understanding of what the patient needs and allows both teams to do a cross-check on each other’s work. With this extra layer of communication and checking, it reduces the chances of medical blunders during a patient’s treatment.


The ability to swing both positively and negatively in power dynamics is what healthcare teams need to look out for. When power is used ineffectively, resentment and barriers go up between teams and individuals. Working together becomes more difficult and patients feel the negative effects. However, when power dynamics are used as an effective tool for healthcare professionals in communication, trusting relationships are formed, work is better accounted for, and higher quality outcomes for patients are the positive result.