Trust As The Foundation For Healthcare Communications

Trust improves medical outcomes. It is the number one predictor of loyalty to a physician’s practice. Patients who trust their doctors are more likely to follow treatment protocols and are more likely to succeed in their efforts to change behavior. (Introduction of The Trust Prescription)

I just finished reading The Trust Prescription For Healthcare by David Shore. I would recommend it. It definitely framed things in a differently light. I also had a chance to talk with David on the phone and pick his brain a little. He sounds like a great speaker, and I’m looking forward to his new book coming out around building trust as an intermediary (i.e., managed care company or PBM).

A few of my highlights from the book are:

  • Trust can be a differentiator.
  • Trust is good business.
  • The physician to patient relationship is where the baseline of trust exists today. Although he brings up the question of whether that trust erode as you get more and more time pressure.  [I don’t remember the book specifically addressing the pharmacist – patient trust relationship although one would assume it is a similar foundational element.]
  • Trust is critical in healthcare because you’re asking a vulnerable patient to believe you can help them.
  • Profits may be negatively correlated with trust in healthcare (but not in other industries).
  • He pointed out the fact that it’s ironic that while pharmaceutical companies do so much good they get such a bad rap.
  • It was the first time I had seen someone introduce the issue of how healthcare entities are portrayed in TV shows and how while this is generally neutral that managed care organizations in the early 2000’s were portrayed negatively (and probably still are).
  • He talks about the concept of “response shift” which I think it an important phenomenon about how our expectations change over time and the effect of expectations on trust.
  • He talks about how two things happen when trust erodes – government intervention and consumer activism. [Hey…that’s where we are today!]
  • He uses two examples many times which are very relevant:
    • Volvo is known for safety not specifically for making cars. They make sure this is consistent in their branding (e.g., not funding NASCAR races). It gets to the core of defining who you are. [This concept also made me think about the new Dawn campaign about saving wildlife.]
    • You can build trust equity like Johnson & Johnson did which helps you when you have issues. [The question is how long they can draw on this given their current issues.]
  • He holds out a few healthcare power brands but says there are very few – Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, BCBS, Kaiser, Massachusetts General.
  • He talked about the concept of a Brand Architecture which made me think about some of the recent rebranding efforts at United Healthcare.
  • He talks about how consumer understanding and communications are key to building trust.

Communication in healthcare typically runs into a series of obstacles related to listening, clarity, and confidence.

Some of the interesting research data was [noting that this was a book from 2005]:

  • 56% of consumers say they will pursue something simply because it was made by a company they trust. (Macrae and Uncles 1997)
  • About half of people agree that “doctors are not as thorough as they should be” and “doctors always treat patients with respect”. (National Opinion Research Center 1998)
  • Race was a highly significant variable in trust correlation even when researchers controlled for other variables. (Corbie-Smith, Thomas, and St. George 2002)
  • Patients are more likely to take a drug that they have requested than a drug with which they are unfamiliar. (Handlin et al 2003)

It book made me think of some interesting questions:

  • Does transparency build trust with consumers?
  • Does concierge medicine build trust overall?
  • Does the use of technology by physicians enable or erode trust? [I believe he said that a lot of physicians didn’t think so.]
  • Do non-profit systems have more consumer trust?
  • What does all the news about drug problems, medical errors, and other issues do to the overall trust of the system?
  • What are the trust queues for consumers by type of healthcare entity? (For example, a dirty bathroom at a hospital might make you worried. What’s true for insurers, PBMs, pharmacies, etc.?)

One key point to pull out that he makes is that

Without branding, healthcare becomes a retail industry, and in retail, as in residential real estate, the three most important factors are location, location, and location.


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