My dad was a doctor in the town where I grew up. He had a very small practice on a very small main street. He’d get calls in the middle of the night, and his patients never doubted he would show up at their home, doctor’s bag in hand. They trusted that my dad would take care of them no matter what, regardless of their ability to pay. Before I ever recognized it for what it was, trust was the essential driver of this doctor-patient relationship — it was the currency of healthcare delivery in my hometown.
Trust is the ultimate currency
At the World Economic Forum held earlier this year, the importance of trust in business and the erosion of the public’s trust in companies and government were major themes. A large sign at the entry to the conference read: “Trust is the ultimate currency.”
Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something,” trust has been the currency of our world since the early days of bartering. There would be no economy or commerce or any kind of exchange without a certain level of trust.
Any relationship — professional or personal — is based on trust. Whether it be a relationship between people selling and buying a product or between patients in need of care and doctors providing that care, trust is at the core of every exchange.
Working in the technology industry, I learned that earning the trust of users is imperative to gaining their adoption of an application. To quote Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce, “trust has to be the highest value in your company.” The key to business sustainability comes down one thing: build trust by acting in the customer’s best interest.
The cost of trust erosion
In today’s environment of political polarization, “fake news”, competing and contradictory sources of information, conflicts of interest, and lack of disclosure, it’s no surprise that people are losing trust in government, business leaders, technology and the news they read.
Since the days of my dad making house calls to care for his patients, trust in healthcare has fallen precipitously. According to Gallup polls, in 2017, only 36 percent of the public said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in U.S. medical system — down from 80 percent in 1975.
So, what happens when there is an erosion of trust? Many of us can share a personal story of a relationship broken or weakened by a breach of trust. Lack of trust creates an environment where people do not feel safe.
Within industries, a breakdown of trust can hinder progress, innovation, and growth. For patients, it can reduce treatment compliance, leading to negative impacts on health. A recent study found that breast cancer patients with the most distrust of the healthcare system were 22 percent more likely to report not getting at least one post-surgical treatment than patients with the least distrust. Other research has found that lack of trust among healthcare staff can reduce the quality of care provided.
Why trust matters in healthcare
There are many players in the healthcare space — physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, health IT companies, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, and government agencies, to name a few. Each has the potential to build trust-based relationships with patients.
In today’s world, it’s hard for patients to trust that the healthcare system will take care of them. With trust, patients feel less vulnerable and providers can be more effective. Research shows that patients who have more trust in their healthcare professionals have less symptoms, are more satisfied with their treatment, report a higher quality of life and pursue healthier behaviors.
Treating trust as a core operating principle in the healthcare industry is powerful. It plays into every decision that people make about their care. It fosters better outcomes as well as innovation.
Building a foundation of trust in healthcare
Trust must be earned with every action. Several practices are key to cultivating trust:
- Transparency — Patients expect transparency. Healthcare organizations and companies have a responsibility to provide it. With transparency, all stakeholders know what’s expected, what they’re going to get, and what they’re accountable for. To restore trust in our medical system, CMS recently enacted a price transparency rule.
- Leadership and Teamwork — Healthcare is a team sport now. Cultivating a culture of trust and transparency requires collaboration, cooperation, and open communication at every level of an organization.
- Experience — Creating a positive, consistent experience throughout the patient journey, regardless of who the patient is or where the patient comes from, nurtures trust.
- Meeting patients wherever, whenver they are — An omni-channel approach with options that accommodate individual needs and preferences promotes engagement and sets the stage for interactions based on trust.
Not only does there need to be trust in the delivery of care, but also in the technologies that serve the medical industry. By keeping in mind that trust is the currency of our business and valuing what matters to patients, health IT companies can go a long way in helping consumers receive the healthcare they want and need.