In the face of political turbulence, regulatory uncertainty, and rising criticism over the costs of drugs, the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer showed surprising data for the healthcare industry — that trust is, in fact, rising.
Healthcare as an industry, as well as pharma, biotech, consumer health, insurance, and hospitals and clinics — the five subsectors included in this survey of 32,200 people across 28 countries — made promising advances in trust both globally and in the U.S.
What is causing these increases in trust, particularly for biotech and pharma? Breakthroughs in medicine may be one answer — the public is perhaps recognizing the significant progress made from pharma and biotechnology companies in the last year, including game-changing cures for hepatitis C, advances in immuno-oncology, and treatments for life-threatening orphan diseases.
While biotech has historically had higher trust levels than pharma, despite similarities in these companies, the advances made in trust in the U.S. this year are noteworthy. We believe this is due to several factors. Biotech, perhaps by name alone, may benefit from an infusion of technology, the most trusted sector in the Trust Barometer since its inception. That infusion is manifesting itself in several ways — innovation from biotech companies, health technologies coming to the forefront, and even tech and biotech philanthropists who have recently launched health-focused initiatives.
Conversely, while the trust gains in healthcare and its subsectors are real, these scores are low relative to other industries studied. In the U.S., healthcare ranks second to last in trust among the 15 industries. Also of concern are data that show a large and growing gap in how the informed public (a demographic that is higher-income, college-educated and that consumes multiple sources of media) and the mass population report trust. Across all countries studied, the informed public is consistently more trusting of society’s main institutions — government, media, business, and NGOs — than the mass population.
As communications and marketing professionals, we must understand what is expected of the healthcare industry to build trust and protect our license to operate. In 2017, the healthcare industry made real, though incremental, progress in meeting expectations around the protection of consumer data and quality control, the trust-building behaviors rated as most important for a company. The largest gaps between expectations and perceived industry performance were demonstrating transparency and authenticity, and showing equal concern about all stakeholders.
Here’s how we can safeguard and advance this year’s positive momentum:
1. Focus on activities that bridge the divide between the informed public and mass population by demonstrating inclusiveness and showing how companies are representing the interests of all stakeholders (not just shareholders).
2. Build engagement and two-way rapport by talking with people, not at them. Creating dialogue, not monologue, will show audiences that healthcare companies are listening and that their feedback is part of a company’s decisions.
3. Companies are increasingly measured not only on what they say, but by their actions — so do more showing and less telling. Take actions that validate more general claims, and demonstrate transparency in how products and services are developed, priced and provided.
4. Trust in traditional media is declining, yet is increasing for online search. Healthcare companies need to own their own stories by leveraging corporate media channels. Interactive, creative content that engages and informs can make an impact. Employees may also serve as trust-building spokespersons. This group is even more trusted than CEOs when sharing company information.
5. Humanizing the industry will increase trust. We believe one reason hospitals and clinics continue to have more trust is due to the people associated with them. Personalize outreach by telling the stories of the real people behind healthcare breakthroughs and the patients who benefit.
While growth in trust is good news for the healthcare industry, considerable room for improvement remains. The healthcare industry and the professionals serving it must continue to be cognizant of consumer expectations, and adapt their behavior to meet them and earn continued advances in trust.
Kym White is global chair of health for Edelman.