Consumer / Employer, Payers

What Are the Challenges in Gaining Trust in Healthcare?

In order to gain trust from communities, healthcare leaders will need more training on effective communication, said Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy. He made these comments last week during a panel at the AHIP 2023 conference in Portland.

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The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted a lack of trust in the healthcare system. About 48% of Americans reported that the pandemic decreased their confidence in the healthcare system’s ability to handle major health crises, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

There are several challenges in gaining trust back, healthcare leaders shared last week during a panel at the AHIP 2023 conference in Portland, Oregon. One of these challenges is that healthcare professionals aren’t adequately trained in communication like other professions, said Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy.

“That journey to become a politician, a business person, somebody who serves in the armed forces, they teach you what effective communication actually looks like,” Gupta said. “You go through classes to understand what those tenants are. I would argue now, the modern healthcare provider — whether it’s a physician, whether it’s a nurse, whether it’s a pharmacist — we need to have those tools, too. … Whether you’re an MD, whether you’re a mid-level, you have to have those skill sets for crisis communication.”

He added that one of the most effective public health campaigns in history was the anti-smoking campaign. The campaign shared the information healthcare leaders knew about smoking, as well as the information they did not know, and strategically used visuals to get the message across. In addition, it leaned on “simple, concise information,” Gupta said.

“We lost our way early in the pandemic, forgetting what was most successful in public health messaging,” Gupta stated. “I think part of it is learning the lessons of history and applying it forward. Number two is recognizing that there’s a huge gap in how we educate our next generation of health leaders.”

There also needs to be a focus on underserved communities when it comes to gaining trust, said co-panelist Dr. Vindell Washington, chief clinical officer for care and director of health equity center of excellence at Verily.

“I don’t think you get a chance to step up to the plate to even begin the services if you don’t have a better strategy for developing trust, if you don’t raise trust in communities that are often underserved,” he said.

He added that communication silos like social media need to be taken advantage of.

“These silos that … traditional healthcare service delivery has ignored are likely to be the same areas that we need to figure out ways to effectively penetrate to deliver strong and good messaging to communities,” he said. 

It’s also important to recognize the difference between misinformation and disinformation, said Dr. Jan Berger, CEO of Health Intelligence Partners and a co-panelist. Misinformation is the unintentional spread of the wrong information, while disinformation is the intentional spread of the wrong information. Both will require effective communication from healthcare leaders.

“The issue in my mind and a lot of what we saw during Covid — which was magnified but it didn’t just start with Covid — was the issue of the fact that it’s a chicken or an egg,” Berger said. “Is it the disinformation that causes distrust? Or is it societal and health and science lack of trust that causes disinformation? … If we start rebuilding trust and if we are very clear in open, transparent, easy-to-understand communication, that’s what we’re going to need to do to start to handle both misinformation and disinformation.”

Photo: zhaojiankang, Getty Images