38423 Healthcare and the Declining State of Trust: How Social Marketers Can Bridge the Gap and Build Credibility with Consumers

Megan Humphries, N/A, Federal Government Services Practice, Edelman, Washington DC, DC

Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer is the agency’s 17th annual trust and credibility survey. The research was conducted by Edelman Intelligence, a global insight and analytics consultancy. Key research questions included: “how much you trust each type of institution to do what is right?”; and “when looking for general news and information, how much would you trust each type of source for general news and information?”. Given that the past year was one of unimaginable upheaval across multiple fronts, including the emergence of the Zika epidemic, we hypothesized that the state of trust would decline globally when compared with similar data from our 2016 survey.

Methods: In late 2016, Edelman conducted an online survey across 28 countries, including the United States, to assess the state of trust in four institutions (business, government, NGOs, and the media) using a 9-point scale (1=“do not trust them at all”; 9=“trust them a great deal”). The survey examined the gaps in the state of trust between two audiences (the informed public and mass population). In addition, it provided insight into the level of trust across five sub-sectors within the healthcare industry (pharmaceutical/drug companies, consumer health/over the counter, biotech/life sciences, health insurance and hospitals/clinics). More than 33,000 respondents participated in the survey of 1,150 general population respondents ages 18 and over and 500 informed public respondents in the United States and China, as well as 200 informed public respondents in all other countries. All fieldwork was conducted between October 13 and November 16, 2016.

Results: The Edelman Trust Barometer paints a sobering picture of the state of trust around the world, demonstrating a decline in trust in the four institutions we studied among the general population, as well as a trust gap that widened from 2016 to 2017 between the informed public and general population. Against that backdrop, the healthcare industry is making slow but steady progress. Trust in healthcare, as well as the five sub-sectors of healthcare we studied, is on the rise when measured globally, gaining momentum from last year. However, while we have forward momentum, trust in healthcare remains low relative to other industries globally, and ahead of only Financial Services in the United States. Trust in healthcare and its component sub-sectors also varies widely across the 28 markets studied, as well as between the informed public and general population – reminding us as ever, healthcare is local.  

Conclusions: The healthcare industry needs to understand what is expected of it and work to close the gaps between consumer expectations and perceived industry performance. Industry has made progress narrowing the gap on the two biggest drivers of healthcare trust year over year – protection of consumer data and quality control. 

Implications for research and/or practice: The healthcare industry will be rewarded for narrowing the still sizeable gap between consumer expectations and industry performance, as well as addressing the biggest gaps between expectations and performance – demonstrating transparency and authenticity in their actions, and showing that they are equally concerned about a wide variety of stakeholders.