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Is trust in healthcare improving?

Butterfly

Edelman’s Annual Trust Barometer for 2017 painted a sobering picture of trust around the globe with a collapse in trust in all four of the major institutions studied - business, government, NGOs and the media. In 17 years of Edelman’s Annual Trust Barometer, which surveyed over 33,000 respondents across 28 global markets for the 2017 report, this is the first year in which trust in all four institutional pillars appears to be in decline.

However, while trust in business generally has weakened, healthcare as a sector has seen a moderate improvement. Of the 28 markets that the Barometer studied, 20 showed an increase in trust in the healthcare sector. However, while the sector sits ahead of industries such as financial services, energy and fashion, it lags well behind the retail, manufacturing and technology sectors.

Although this ‘middle-ground’ position is promising, this is not the time for the industry to become complacent. A study of subsectors within healthcare reveals fractured public opinion, with far greater trust being placed in care providers, such as hospitals, than pharmaceutical or health insurance companies. In fact, of healthcare’s subsectors, the pharmaceutical industry is the least trusted of all, trailing significantly behind biotech and the life science sector, and further still behind hospitals and clinics. Despite increases in trust in 16 markets for the pharmaceutical industry, the wider picture remains troubling. The pharmaceutical industry remains distrusted in half of all markets, with the majority of developed markets saying they are distrustful of the industry.

The reasons why are not necessarily new or surprising… the public perceives the pharmaceutical industry as exploitative, doubting whether consumer interests are considered in the development and production of drugs. Globally, a massive 80% of people believe that the pharmaceutical industry puts profits ahead of people. This distrust also translates into healthcare policy, with roughly the same proportion agreeing that the government needs to do more to regulate the pharmaceutical industry. This perception must be tackled given the existing high levels of regulation supporting the development of life-saving treatments.

Emerging prospects

Trust in healthcare and its component sub-sectors also varies widely across the 28 markets studied, reminding us, as ever, that healthcare is local. In developing markets, we saw a more trusting consumer base. Indonesia saw a 13-point increase in trust towards the pharmaceutical industry, while trust in India rose by 9 percentage points compared to a decline in the UK of 2 percentage points. This is a trend observed across sectors and institutions - emerging markets are more trusting as they are more open to progress and the improvements that healthcare can bring. This is perhaps linked to steadily rising living standards and access to better healthcare.

We’re also seeing greater faith among the young, with millennials trusting pharmaceutical companies 11 percentage points more than baby boomers globally. It appears that, being less cynical in their experience of healthcare, younger consumers are more open to pharma’s role in the sector. As such, young people may provide a base upon which the industry can rebuild trust. Coupled with a curation of relationships in the developing world, young consumers provide a promising opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to rebuild trust.

The trusted face of healthcare

Hospitals and clinics have consistently been the frontrunner in health, with 70% of the public trusting the sub-sector. This is unsurprising - healthcare providers are the familiar face of healthcare treatment. This suggests that familiarity is beneficial to trust. If consumers can see the role that you play in their care, they are likely to be more trusting.

It’s here that we see a gap between the expectations of consumers and the performance of the health sector. On a scale of 0-100, the public placed an importance of 84 on transparency and authenticity, while the industry’s performance ranks at just 61.

Trust through visibility

The challenge appears to be one of effectively communicating the pharmaceutical industry’s role in providing treatment

and care. Consumers are most trusting of the areas of healthcare that they see and with whom they interact. It is a trust built on knowledge and understanding. With 4 in 10 not knowing the name of the company that produces their medication, it is hardly surprising that trust in the industry is low.

When it comes to trust in individual companies, visibility appears to be a decisive factor. Of the pharma companies polled, the only company that the public trusted was the one recognised as a consumer brand. The recognised name was 28% more trusted than its counterparts. This aligns with a wider trend towards familiarity, with individuals now most likely to trust people like themselves over experts or CEOs. If pharmaceutical companies are to build trust, it is essential to rethink how to engage with consumers, within a highly regulated environment.

Visibility is by no means without its risk. Greater transparency, by its very nature, permits greater scrutiny and raises expectations. But that is exactly why it is so crucial to building trust. When consumers feel that they know a company, they feel able to scrutinise its behaviour. When a company is visible, it is granted the opportunity to explain its actions and perspective. Doing so in a more transparent setting opens a dialogue with consumers, including them in the conversation.

Yes, trust in healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry has moderately improved at a time when trust overall is at a historic low. And greater levels of trust amongst the young and in emerging markets are promising signs. But this cannot be taken for granted. Distrust across developed markets is not a sustainable position. We must learn from our experience of trust in the health sector and meet consumers’ desires for an industry that is visible, transparent and inclusive. We need to put a human face on the industry, using ‘people like them’ to tell the stories of success and to create a dialogue, rather than a monologue, to create engagement. Indeed, greater public engagement could create huge value for the pharmaceutical industry, building trust and reaffirming the industry’s licence to operate.

“While it’s encouraging to hear there are modest improvements in levels of trust across the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector, more can, and is, being done” said Aileen Thompson, executive director, communications at the ABPI.

“We’re entering a golden age of scientific discovery with over 7,000 new medicines in research globally. These advances will inspire others, give hope, and help tackle and beat illness and disease. Sharing these stories is at the top of our communication priorities.

The industry is also actively delivering against commitments on transparency. We’re engaging more proactively and seeing the benefits of increased visibility with a wide range of stakeholders. It’s going to take time, commitment and persistence to increase trust. This is a sector that is determined to continue to make a positive difference and is up for the challenges ahead.”

Article by
Vicky Bramham

is director at Edelman

2nd April 2018

Article by
Vicky Bramham

is director at Edelman

2nd April 2018

From: Healthcare

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