Trust: A Key Element in Patient Communication

Trust is one of the most important factors in human life and affects the diverse aspects of social interactions and decision-making. Trust is fundamental in healthcare and permeates how much patients trust their doctors, science, clinical solutions, or public health organizations. Understanding patients’ trust in health information sources is critical to building a health system that is efficient and suitable to patients’ needs.

You may ask, how do we build trust?

 Trust is built on relationships and is an essential component of any therapeutic relationship between the patient and their medical provider. It’s hard for patients to trust providers that they don’t know or that they feel like left them behind. This lack of trust is especially true among vulnerable and minority populations that were the target of medical atrocities in the past.

Trust doesn’t happen in warp speed. Trust happens over time through numerous interactions. Trust is about listening, dialoguing, and truly caring about patients. Trust is about human connection.

How about misinformation and disinformation? 

Trust in the healthcare system has been quite challenging in the last couple of years, with misinformation and disinformation increasingly rampant on social media, schools, communities, and workplaces. Today, patients are more vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation, which has contributed to problems such as vaccine hesitancy, distrust in diagnosis, and lack of adherence to treatments and medications.

How can healthcare organizations and doctors build or rebuild trust with their patients?

First, it’s important to understand that trust is influenced by various social, economic, cultural, and political factors, past experiences, and the history of specific communities. Thus, healthcare professionals should gain knowledge about these factors, learn how to earn the trust and cooperation of patients that are not like themselves, and cross barriers to better understand the population they serve.

Second, trust-building initiatives should not be limited to times of public health crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic) but should be an ongoing effort from healthcare systems to work with community organizations. There is no quick fix. It’s imperative for healthcare systems to be more interested in the communities they serve, integrate with them, and be there for the long haul. Because trust building doesn’t happen with a singular interaction, it requires a long-term commitment and engagement with patients. Here are some of the simple strategies that healthcare organizations can start using to rebuild trust with patients:

  • Build and sustain long-term relationships with local communities. 
  • Invest in community outreach initiatives.
  • Make sure the access to clinics, hospitals, and mobile units includes personnel representative of the communities they serve.
  • Speak with communities in their languages and address issues with their worldview.

 Trust is central in communication with patients and is crucial to the delivery of quality care. However, trust-building will demand a long-term commitment and investment of energy and resources from healthcare systems and governments. 

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