Health systems + hospitals must build patient trust — now.

In a world of easily accessible information and high care costs, today’s American public has also proven to be less inclined to trust the healthcare industry. A Gallup poll found that public “confidence in the medical system” dropped more than 50% over the past four decades, falling from 80% in 1975 to 38% in 2019. 

Similarly, in 2020, as COVID-19 continues to impact communities worldwide, a Deloitte survey found that just over half of healthcare consumers (51%) said “their health plan gave them a feeling of confidence about their safety during the COVID-19 crisis.” An equally low percentage, just 54%, believed “their health plan demonstrated interest in their health and well-being during the crisis.”

But why is there such low trust in the medical establishment? For patients, some of the potential reasons include:

    • Easily accessible and widespread health information on the internet
    • Financial and organizational pressures for providers to shorten office visits
    • Rising healthcare costs, often not covered by insurance
    • Physician conflicts of interest

Outsiders to the field might view this as simply the standard fluctuations of growth and industry expansion. However, Modern Healthcare recognized the seriousness of the situation on the ground, writing that, “for patients, the trust deficit invites lower rates of treatment compliance leading to potentially dangerous impacts on health.” 

That dire statement is backed up by research: A 2017 study from Oliver Wyman found that “Consumers who feel disrespected by providers are twice as likely to not be adherent to their medication protocols. Diabetics who do not feel respected are one third more likely to have poorly controlled diabetes than diabetics who do feel respected by providers.”

On the flip side, however, those who can establish trust between patients and providers stand to benefit. A 2017 study published in PLoS ONE found “a small to moderate correlation between trust and health outcomes.” That is, those who trusted their healthcare professional had a more positive perception of care.

So where does patient engagement technology come into play? Can widespread and localized communication help to undo decades of damage? And how can digital care management tools help to rebuild patient trust, especially during a dire public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic? 

A widespread need for trusted resources

As the Gallup research above demonstrates, there’s a public demand for transparency and partnership when it comes to patients and their interactions with healthcare organizations.

As unified centers of care, health systems are in a unique position to be both the “listening ear” and the “authoritative voice” for their patient community. If a healthcare organization can engender the trust that is so crucial to the patient-provider relationship, it will find that patients are looking to it to be a centralized resource.

This means that patients will be reliant on it for the ebb and flow of communication, as situations and circumstances change and healthcare recommendations change with them. 

Crucial communication during a public health emergency

This kind of flexibility takes on an outsized importance during a pandemic like COVID-19 — both during the initial wave and any resurgences or “hot spots” that may arise.

Making an effort to build trust means that health systems are with patients for the long haul, whether that’s communicating about cancellations and rescheduling of procedures during a pandemic, information about updated visiting hours or assurances about actions being taken to ensure the safety of both care teams and patients.

More importantly, patients will trust the information that’s being conveyed. Digital care management tools can be used to combat inconsistent messaging across the media, in a time when many distrust the communications they’re receiving.

COVID-19 represents a good example of the importance of trusted communication from health systems. Cases of the virus are highly localized, resulting in “hot spots” around the country. 

What does this mean for health systems? 

One size will not fit all, in terms of communication. The messaging that works in one state or even county may not be applicable in the next county over. With different communities at different stages of the outbreak, it’s important to tailor healthcare messaging to the needs of a specific patient community. 

Technology aid:
System-wide emergency messaging and alerting capabilities found in tools like GetWell Inpatient allow health systems to emphasize specifics relevant to a local community or health system, all while ensuring consistent messaging from an authoritative voice.

Regular outreach even during smooth sailing

But a pandemic is not the only time that outreach is important. Regular outreach, even during “calm times,” goes a long way towards keeping patients in the know and full of trust in a health system. One way to build trust is by using a regular cadence of communication both when patients are at the hospital and after they are discharged. 

Technology aid: 
A digital care management tool like GetWell Loop can help automatically deliver daily touchpoints to each individual patient in a personalized manner, without requiring a heavy lift from the care team or staff.   

The bottom line

In a world where less than half of the public has confidence in the medical system, the use of personalized, automated technology can go a long way towards winning back patients and gaining their trust. Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep in mind that cultural and local communication are key. 

Keep in mind that the tools being used for a pandemic are also important outside of the crisis. And, above all else, work to bridge the trust gap in every setting — with care, communication, technology and every tool at your disposal.