A recent opinion piece in Modern Healthcare really resonated with me. Written by Drs. Maria Ansari and Ramin Davidoff, co-CEOs of The Permanente Federation, the article focuses on the serious loss of public trust in the U.S. healthcare system which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They quote a recent Gallup poll that found that only 34% of Americans say they trust the medical system, down a full 10 percentage points from the same summer period in 2021.
Clearly, patients need to trust that the physicians, nurses, and myriad of other clinicians have their best interests at heart. Without that trust, patients won’t seek out care, may not agree to have tests or other interventions, and are unlikely to follow any long-term advice. In other words, without confidence in the good intentions of those caring for us, there really is no healthcare system to speak of.
So, what can be done? The good doctors make several suggestions. They urge us to respect the patient voice by trying to understand their needs as patients outline them. Kaiser Permanente promotes attention to culture and language competency, and often incorporates these ideals into performance goals. The doctors also recommend accelerating the shift to value-based care while highlighting the need to have such programs be physician-led.
Further, the authors suggest more innovation to meet patients where they are. Where are they? At Target, Walmart, and Walgreens! Patients are also at home, so creating tools and services that support remote monitoring and virtual care is essential. They note that “treating patients where they live can lead to better outcomes and higher rates of patient satisfaction—an important metric to measure overall healthcare quality and also build trust. Health systems can close care gaps by appropriately moving acute care into the home. These programs enable patients, who may not have ready access to a hospital, to receive acute-level care in the convenience and safety of their own home.”
I have some of my own suggestions to help increase trust in our healthcare system. Start with more transparency. As I note in the book I co-authored, Designing for Health: The Human-Centered Approach, transparency and predictability are essential parts of human-centered design. Transparency is key to rebuilding trust. This means being open about treatment options, costs, and the benefits and risks of procedures. Healthcare providers should involve patients in decision-making processes, giving them a sense of control and partnership in their care. Additionally, being transparent about mistakes and learning from them can significantly improve trust.
Enhancing digital health literacy may not be at the top of a healthcare system CEO’s list of things to do, but to help repair trust, it belongs somewhere on the list. In an age where misinformation is rampant, especially on social media, enhancing patients' digital health literacy is crucial. This involves educating patients on how to find, interpret, and use health information from digital sources responsibly. Healthcare providers can provide resources or workshops on navigating health information online, helping patients make more informed decisions about their health.
Something as straightforward as implementing peer support and patient advocacy programs can help rebuild a belief in the healthcare system. Peer support programs, where patients can share experiences and support each other, can enhance trust. Similarly, patient advocacy programs, where trained advocates help patients navigate the healthcare system, understand their rights, and make informed decisions, can empower patients and build confidence.
Ensuring that the data that patients entrust us with is safe is essential for a well-functioning healthcare system. In the era of digital health records, ensuring the security and privacy of patient data is paramount. By implementing and transparently communicating robust cybersecurity measures, healthcare organizations can reassure patients that their sensitive health information is protected. This might involve advanced encryption methods, regular security audits, and clear privacy policies that are easily shared with all involved parties.
Trust is the coin of the healthcare realm. Without it, we’re doomed to a future where scientific advances won’t make a dent in the health of our citizens. We need to regain what was lost during the pandemic. It’s not an impossible task, but it will take dedication and thoughtful forward progress