Physicians’ trust in health care leadership drops in pandemic


78% of patients trust primary care doctor

When asked whether they trust their primary care physician, 78% of patients said yes. However, trust in doctors was higher among people who were older (90%), White (82%), or had high income (89%). Among people reporting lower trust, 25% said their physician spends too little time with them, and 14% said their doctor does not know or listen to them.

The survey shows that government agencies have work to do to earn trust. Responses indicate that 43% of physicians said they have “complete trust” in government health care agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is substantially higher than other parts of the health care system. However, trust in agencies declined for 43% of physician respondents and increased for 21%.

Dhruv Khullar, MD, MPP, of the department of health policy and economics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told this news organization the survey results match what he sees anecdotally in medicine – that physicians have been losing trust in the system but not in their colleagues.

He said the sample size of 600 is enough to be influential, though he said he would like to know the response rate, which was not calculated for this survey.

He added that, in large part, physicians’ lack of trust in their systems may come from generally being asked to see more patients and to meet more metrics during the same or shorter periods.

Physicians’ lack of trust in the system can have significant consequences, he said. It can lead to burnout, which has been linked with poorer quality of care and physician turnover, he noted.

COVID-19 led some physicians to wonder whether their system had their best interests at heart, insofar as access to adequate medicines and supplies as well as emotional support were inconsistent, Dr. Khullar said.

He said that to regain trust health care systems need to ask themselves questions in three areas. The first is whether their goals are focused on the best interest of the organization or the best interest of the patient.

“Next is competency,” Dr. Khullar said. “Maybe your motives are right, but are you able to deliver? Are you delivering a good product, whether clinical services or something else?”

The third area is transparency, he said. “Are you going to be honest and forthright in what we’re doing and where we’re going?”

Caroline Pearson, senior vice president of health care strategy for NORC, said the emailed survey was conducted between Dec. 29, 2020, and Feb. 5, 2021, with a health care survey partner that maintains a nationwide panel of physicians across specialties.

She said this report is fairly novel insofar as surveys are more typically conducted regarding patients’ trust of their doctors or of the health care system.

Ms. Pearson said because health care is delivered in teams, understanding the level of trust among the entities helps ensure that care will be delivered effectively and seamlessly with high quality.

“We want our patients to trust our doctors, but we really want doctors to trust each other and trust the hospitals and systems in which they’re working,” she said.

Dr. Baron, Ms. Pearson, and Dr. Khullar report no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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