Advancing Trust in Healthcare in a Multifaceted World

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Tips on building trust in the healthcare industry

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer findings offer important insights for the healthcare industry, particularly as leaders consider new ways to reach more diverse audiences. Similar to previous years, healthcare ranks on the lower end of all industries in terms of global trust levels, with a score of 61 out of 100.

Now is the time for healthcare leaders to consider how their messages and actions are contributing to, or detracting from, trust and how they can build it.

Broaden Your Communications

The challenge: The Trust Barometer found a widening gap between the informed and general public, with trust generally rising among more educated, affluent audiences but much room to improve with the remaining 85% of the population. For the U.S. healthcare industry, the difference between trust scores in these two audiences was 13 points, the second highest disparity of the 28 countries included in Edelman’s study.

The opportunity: Rather than relying on information to trickle down from educated audiences to larger populations, public outreach must address more diverse audiences across a number of mediums. Consider multifaceted communications programs that reach deeper into communities and engage a wide array of stakeholders.

Focus on Transparency, Social Responsibility and Public Benefit

The challenge: The Trust Barometer saw another large gap – between people’s expectations of the healthcare industry and their perceptions of performance. The most notable gaps were:

  • Transparency in reporting progress on company’s social responsibilities (26-point gap)
  • Ensuring quality control (22-point gap)
  • Making “my life easier” (22-point gap)

The opportunity: These gaps translate directly into opportunities for healthcare companies that want to build public trust. Many are already involved in societal issues and vigorous quality control efforts, and effective communications around these programs are ways to build trust. While “makes my life easier” is fairly broad as an expectation, it is a reminder to clearly articulate not just what a company is doing, but how it is benefiting the community at large.

Additionally, the Trust Barometer found “protecting consumer data” and “keeping me and my family safe” were listed among the most important behaviors for building trust in a healthcare company. Lack of attention to these behaviors will cost healthcare companies dearly where trust is concerned.

Activate Both Leadership and Employees

The challenge: In the United States, only 46% reported trusting healthcare CEOs; globally, healthcare CEOs were less trusted than the overall healthcare sector by 10 points. Additionally, while approximately seven out of 10 health industry employees said they trust their company, this means there is a remaining 30% who still do not.

The opportunity: The Trust Barometer found that when CEOs became more engaged with societal issues they were able to significantly boost advocacy and commitment in their employees. Given the deep commitments many healthcare companies have to societal issues, turning up the volume on these initiatives, ensuring the CEO is rightfully engaged and allowing employees to play a part in advocacy should advance trust.

Companies may also consider use of spokespersons outside of the C-suite leadership, with appropriate guardrails in place, to tell the story and build credibility. When asked who the most trusted spokesperson is to communicate around a variety of business topics, the Trust Barometer found people trust subject matter experts and regular employees more than leaders.

Make Health Delivery Personal

The challenge: When taking a closer look at the sub-sectors examined within healthcare, both in the United States and globally, one sub-sector had a clear lead: hospitals/clinics. In the United States, while trust in hospitals/clinics increased by only one point in 2016, this sub-sector was still well ahead of all others, with a total trust level of 66. Comparatively, trust in insurance increased by four points year over year, trust in consumer health remained flat and both the pharmaceutical and biotech/life sciences sub-sectors each decreased in trust by two points.

The opportunity: Why does trust in hospitals and clinics remain ahead of the other health sub-sectors? One possibility is that the general public is able to interact with hospital and clinic workers, who serve as an accessible face of the healthcare system. Other subsectors such as pharma, biotech and insurers play a much less visible role when it comes to the actual delivery of healthcare.

In an environment that is less trusting of the healthcare industry, hospitals and clinics stand out for stronger trust scores; other industry sub-sectors may consider taking a page out of their book to build trust. While not all sub-sectors may have the option for direct engagement with patients, there are a number of opportunities to serve stakeholders so they experience a personal touch and feel a company has their best interests at heart.

Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer global and U.S. findings point to disparities in trust both within the healthcare industry and how it is perceived by the general population. Additionally, while the informed public is becoming more trusting, there is still work to do to build credibility with the rest of the population.

Moving forward, as the healthcare industry advances both its global footprint and impact, industry leaders would be well advised to heed these findings and seize the many opportunities available to them to advance trust.

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About Author

Kym White
Kym White

Kym White is global sector chair at Edelman, leading the agency’s 600+ health specialists to provide communications counsel to a wide variety of healthcare clients. Her experience includes 20+ years of developing and overseeing U.S. and global communications programs for many of the world’s leading health organizations, including hospitals, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Previously, Kym was vice president of corporate communications for Baxter International Inc. In this position, she was responsible for leading Baxter’s global communications function, which included corporate reputation; crisis and issues management; media relations; executive, employee, web and financial communications; community relations; the Baxter International Foundation; and initiatives related to the company’s long-term commitment to sustainability. Kym is a frequent speaker on healthcare marketing and global communications, and has been recognized as one of the top 50 healthcare PR professionals by PR Week. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a B.S. in communications and political science.

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