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Increasing Trust is Key to Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic and Other Threats to Health

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the health of communities worldwide, researchers say that patients’ trust in the medical profession has never been more important as the health care community seeks to administer COVID vaccines en masse.

Patients’ trust in the medical profession – and clinicians’ trust in their own health organizations — has dropped during the last 50 years, however.

Two articles published in November/December 2021 Annals of Family Medicine provide insights into how this trend has affected patient outcomes and what the health care community should do to increase trust among clinicians and their organizations, as well as among patients and their clinicians.

Research at Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute led by Mark Linzer, MD, a physician at Hennepin Healthcare and the University of Minnesota, found that patients’ trust in their clinicians is connected to specific aspects of culture of the organization, and the level of trust their clinicians have in the health organization in which they work.

“Lack of trust in the medical profession has implications for patient care since research from past epidemics has shown that lack of trust decreases the likelihood of patients adhering to public health recommendations,” Linzer et al write. “It is critical to identify factors that will assist health systems to better understand how to create the most trust within their work environments.”

Linzer and his colleagues used baseline data from the Healthy Work Place trial, a randomized trial of interventions to improve clinician work life in 34 Midwest and East Coast primary care clinics, to identify clinical characteristics associated with high levels of clinician-organization and patient-clinician trust.

“High clinician-high patient” trust occurred when clinicians perceived their organizational culture as having:

  • An emphasis on quality
  • An emphasis on communication and information
  • Cohesiveness among clinicians
  • Shared values between clinicians and their leaders

Family physician and blogger Kenneth W. Lin, MD, MPH, of Georgetown University Medical Center concurs with Linzer et al in an accompanying editorial piece.

Lin says increased patient trust in health care is crucial to paving a way forward through the current pandemic. “As mass vaccination campaigns have stalled, recommendations from trusted primary care clinicians have become critical to overcoming vaccine hesitancy,” he writes.

“Where Trust Flourishes: Perceptions of Clinicians Who Trust Their Organizations and Are Trusted by Their Patients,” by Mark Linzer, MD, et al, and “Trust and Relationships Remain at the Heart of Primary Care,” by Kenneth W. Lin, MD, MPH, are available now in the Annals of Family Medicine.

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