Healthcare's Trust Crash


Edelman's solution-based advice on regaining trust in healthcare and how it got lost in the first place.

Lynn Hanessian and Laurel Butterfield

3 min read

The Edelman Trust Barometer showed an erosion in trust in healthcare around the world – with 17 out of 28 markets included in the decline. The United States had among the steepest dips in trust, and trust in Healthcare and the five related sub-sectors studied (Pharma, Biotech/Life Sciences, Consumer Health, Hospitals/Clinics and Insurance) that also took a fall. Trust in Healthcare declined by 9 points in the U.S., to a score of 53 out of 100, making it the least trusted sector of the 15 Edelman includes in the Trust survey.

For the first time since 2015, all Health sub-sectors also dropped in trust in the U.S. In a 2018 versus 2017 comparison:

  • Pharma moved to distrusted, losing 13 points
  • Insurance also moved to distrusted, losing 9 points
  • Biotech/Life Sciences moved from trusted to neutral, losing 7 points
  • Consumer Health also moved from trusted to neutral, losing 7 points
  • Hospitals remained trusted, despite losing 1 point

What is causing these large drops in trust in the U.S. in healthcare?

One hypothesis is that the ongoing blame game across the industry over the high cost of healthcare had an overall negative impact on all that touched health. The trust decline was further compounded by uncertainties around the fate of the Affordable Care Act and the accompanying political battles. Changes in the out-of-pocket expenses for families and frustration with an overly complicated system also add drags in trust.

To regain trust in the U.S., healthcare companies must leave the blame game behind and focus on solutions. This means addressing both unmet patient needs and the costs of care. The industry must double down on messaging around benefits and innovation or run the risk of being overpowered by the pricing outrage cycle. This includes focusing messages around R&D, innovation and hard science – versus profits, sales, and marketing.

Trust is also built on treating the whole person. Patients are looking to health companies to build and create solutions beyond the products they sell. Edelman data also show the general population has largely positive sentiment toward the future of health technology. While developing new treatments is expected of the health industry, providing holistic wellness and disease management solutions will further build trust.

Healthcare communicators can also look to those trusted within the industry, like hospitals and clinics, which Edelman hypothesizes benefit from the human faces associated with the care delivered, to help determine how they may establish a more personal connection with patients.

Healthcare companies have ample room to share their positive contributions to society their own content and platforms.

This year we have global data that show content provided by health companies is viewed as credible, while only 53 percent trust health news reported by the media. This is a clear opportunity for health companies to share interactive, creative content. With the changing media landscape and general distrust in this institution, health companies must leverage their own channels to share their stories.

Because it helps to lead with a humanized approach, Edelman also recommends activating a chorus of spokespersons, including experts and employees to tell the story. With the polarization of trust seen across markets, it is also essential to tailor programming locally.

  • Lynn Hanessian and
  • Laurel Butterfield