In the UK, of 1,000 people surveyed for this year’s 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health, 32% of people reported fair, poor or very poor health and that number was higher in those respondents with lower income (45%). While that may come as no surprise to many of us who work in the healthcare industry, how people classify what health means to them, who they trust and how they want to be treated by healthcare professionals is changing. People are looking for ways to become more empowered.

Given the changes we have seen in the health landscape since the pandemic, this year we were keen to understand how people are defining what ‘being healthy’ means to them. Whilst it is unlikely to be a surprise that mental (88%) and physical health (88%) were top of the list, two other components also featured highly; social health (having people who care for you, not being discriminated against, having someone to talk to freely) was mentioned by 75% and community liveability (access to a clean, safe and peaceful community and having a healthy planet) by 69%. This widening of the definition of health is a clear indication that helping people to be healthy is no longer just a case of fixing their illnesses but now means supporting their wider well-being, providing environments that support healthy living and ensuring that people have connections to a social infrastructure that supports them as individuals.

One way to improve people’s health is through the adoption of habits such as making better food choices and getting more exercise. Changing or instigating new habits is hard and whilst behaviour change models are in plentiful supply, our survey showed that trust in the health ecosystem and having a good relationship with an individual’s primary healthcare provider were two key factors that increased the likelihood of someone making a positive health change.

How do healthcare providers create such a positive and trust-enhancing environment? There are factors that our survey respondents said were important to them which are relatively easy to make part of every touchpoint in the healthcare system. Firstly, as a healthcare professional, make sure you are treating someone’s medical needs; 80% of respondents said this was necessary to feel well cared for. Secondly, 76% of respondents want their concerns to be eased through listening, avoidance of judgement, using terminology that can be easily understood and reducing anxiety. Thirdly, 61% of individuals in the UK need to feel cared for as an individual through an understanding of not just their health concerns but their own personal circumstances. If, as a health care professional, you want someone to change their behaviour, 58% of people said it was very or extremely important that you show them that your recommendation is based on data collected from a person like themselves and the same number of people say it is very or extremely important to acknowledge the burden that the change might have on their life. Finally, 65% said that it is very or extremely important that they have a way to ask questions and raise concerns.

So what are the consequences of a gap between what people need and what they feel they are getting? One possible consequence is an increase in the number of people doing their own research on health issues, with nearly 3 in 10 saying they are doing this more than before the pandemic. And 37% of those aged 18-34 agreeing with the statement that ‘The average person who has done their own research is just as knowledgeable on most health matters as doctors’.

Overall, what is evident from our survey this year is that the health landscape is undergoing significant change. As communicators, working out how to navigate the needs and desires of individuals when it comes to their health will be critical to the future success of our work – if we want to change people’s health for the better.