The U.S. trust in healthcare is dropping—a warning sign to executives across the industry, according to a new study.
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, in the U.S., trust in healthcare declined nine points, making it the least trusted of the 15 sectors Edelman studies.
In addition, for the first time since 2015, every health subsector studied dropped in trust in the U.S. this year. Compared to the previous year, Pharma lost 13 points (score of 38), Insurance lost nine points (score of 46), Biotech/Life Sciences and Consumer Health each lost seven points (scores of 55 and 56, respectively) and Hospitals saw a drop by one point (score of 70).
What may be the culprit?
“One hypothesis we have is that the ongoing blame game over the high cost of healthcare had an overall negative impact on all industries in [the healthcare sector],” says Susan Isenberg, Edelman’s global health chair. “Edelman data shows no health subsector is coming out ahead in this argument. We believe that instead it has served to amplify that healthcare costs are rising with no solution yet in sight.”
Hospitals/clinics on the frontlines of delivering care have consistently been the most trusted sub-sector in healthcare, according to previous Edelman studies. “However, this is the first year we have ever seen a decline in trust in this subsector in the U.S.,” Isenberg says. “While a trust score of 70 in the U.S. is still largely positive, any decline in trust must be addressed in today’s polarized environment.”
Edelman hypothesizes that hospitals maintain a higher level of trust because of the people they have on the frontlines of treatment and care, who have direct relationships with patients, according to Isenberg. “However, this year we believe that has not spared hospitals from the cost debate. Coupled with concerns about access to care in the U.S., Americans may have felt less confident this year about health systems in place,” she says.
Top untrustworthy sectors of healthcare
Globally and in the U.S., pharma remained the least trusted sub-sector of health that Edelman studies.
Pharma was followed by health insurance companies.
Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer data show pharma is the most blamed among the list of players in the industry for high healthcare costs. Both global and U.S. data from the Trust Barometer found most respondents agreed that pharmaceutical companies put profit ahead of patients.
Addressing the problem
“To regain footing from this year’s nine-point drop in trust in the U.S., the health industry must show how it is part of the solution,” Isenberg says. “Rather than participating in the blame game, organizations may advance trust by showing that they are part of the solution. This means addressing both unmet patient needs and the costs of care.”
- Every healthcare company needs to be a publisher. There is ample room to share messaging through a company’s own channels, particularly as data found that trust in the media declined in 2018, according to Isenberg. U.S. Trust Barometer data show content provided by health companies is seen as credible. “This is a clear opportunity for health companies to leverage their own media channels and share their stories through interactive, creative content,” she says.
- Use a chorus to tell the story. “The industry can move toward trust by activating both their experts, a spokesperson group that is once again viewed as credible, and their employees, who can speak to company news in authentic and local voices,” Isenberg says.
- Sell more than the product. “Patients are looking to health companies to build and create solutions beyond the pill,” Isenberg says. “Our data also show the general population has generally positive sentiment toward the future of health technology. While developing new treatments is expected of the health industry, providing holistic solutions will further build trust.”
- Humanize your approach. Healthcare companies should look to those trusted within the industry—like hospitals and clinics—and determine how they may establish a more personal connection with patients, she says. “For example, humanizing what happens in the laboratory by showcasing the real scientists behind a breakthrough, or creating a campaign where patients are heard and can contribute rather than just feeling they are simply the target of promotions,” Isenberg says.