Trust and Health Care
Written by Editor   
Saturday, March 10, 2018 06:01 PM

Trust is vital for our social and economic well-being. It allows us to work, buy, sell and vote with some reasonable expectation that our behavior will be met with fairness and good will.  Trust is crucial in the relationship between patients and health care providers, but it has been on the decline in recent decades.  

There are steps health care leaders and public health officials can take to show they deserve to be trusted. Clear, transparent communication and a history of fulfilled trust are important, and health care providers can build trust by disclosing conflicts of interest; creating expectations for long-term relationships; and promoting shared interests and smaller power differences with patients. 

People’s trust depends fundamentally on three questions: 

  • Do you know what you’re doing? 
  • Will you tell me what you’re doing? 
  • Are you doing it to help me or help yourself?

Trust, of course, requires trustworthiness. In 1966, more than three-fourths of Americans had great confidence in medical leaders; today, only 34 percent do. Compared with people in other developed countries, Americans are considerably less likely to trust doctors, and only a quarter express confidence in the health system.

During some recent disease outbreaks, less than one-third of Americans said they trusted public health officials to share complete and accurate information. Only 14 percent trust the federal government to do what’s right most of the time.

Trust is the cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship, and patients who trust their doctors are more likely to follow treatment plans. Trust is one of the best predictors of whether patients follow a doctor’s advice. Trust is also critical for patient satisfaction, and makes it more likely that patients keep seeing the same doctor.

Waning trust in the health system is partly a result of the sometimes well-founded public perception that its key players pursue profits at the expense of patients.  All institutions are imperfect, and some are plainly corrupt. A degree of skepticism is inevitable and important. But when doubt becomes pervasive, it can erode the glue that binds society together, and the medicine that keeps us healthy.