The politicisation of healthcare has undoubtedly influenced people’s trust in whom they turn to for health information…
The COVID pandemic has brought health to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Neighbours, friends, colleagues and associates have all been affected, giving everyone an unwanted common topic. Discussing the coronavirus has been a bit like discussing the weather – it’s something everyone can comment on. However, Edelman’s recent Trust report showed that we must carefully navigate such conversations as, unlike the weather, people's opinions and thoughts on COVID are deeply varying.
Last spring, during the vaccine rollout, I found myself in this situation during a chat with my next-door neighbour. He asked me, “are you going to take the COVID vaccine and, if so, which one… the Pfizer or AstraZeneca one?” Given I work in healthcare and passionately believe in the importance of vaccines, I tried to respond casually that I would take the vaccine and whichever one was offered. He was less sure, explaining that he felt we were being “forced” to have it and was concerned about vaccine safety. His uneasiness was wrapped in general wariness on the government’s sudden involvement in our personal lives.
My neighbour wasn’t alone in his thinking. Fifty-three per cent of UK survey respondents are worried that medical science is becoming politicised, and only 39% trust government leaders to tell the truth about health issues.
Information sources are shaping our health behaviours
A decay in trust might partly explain why, despite the wave of new health information spurred by the pandemic, the UK public has lost confidence in their ability to find answers to health questions and make informed decisions (from 70% to 65% in 2017 and 2022, respectively). This drop could be because the public feels overwhelmed by a so-called ‘infodemic’ – when people don’t know where to access trusted and credible information.
It's widely accepted that where you seek health information undoubtedly affects your health choices. As such, the Trust survey looked at vaccinated and unvaccinated respondents. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who were fully vaccinated relied on their doctor or recommendations from national health experts, whilst those who chose not to be vaccinated relied on internet searches and the advice of family and friends. Overall, those with lower levels of trust in the healthcare ecosystem (all people, bodies and channels that provide healthcare services) are much less likely to be vaccinated (68%) than people with higher trust (88%).
This leads to the fact that, as the report showed, trust ranks among the top determinants of good "health behaviours". For example, people with higher trust in the UK’s health ecosystem were more likely to have had a routine check-up in the last year (42%) than those with lower trust (22%).
What does this mean for us and our clients working in healthcare communications?
In the UK, paradoxically, over a third (38%) of respondents say they see “information” as a barrier to “taking care of my health”, just slightly behind “cost” (43%). Issues cited for the information barrier are a lack of information, changing health recommendations and contradictory expert advice. And so, the answer is clear: we need to work with our clients to do a better job of delivering high-quality information through channels people trust.
The most trusted spokesperson to tell the truth about health issues is “my” doctor, followed by health experts and pharmacists. When it comes to believing a piece of health information or story, alongside national health authorities, “my employer” was the next top-ranking source. This shows people are looking to their employers for guidance on health issues, and it's essential employers recognise and respond to this – however difficult it may be.
In April, when the government launched its ‘Living with COVID’ programme, employers no longer had a license to treat staff differently or request vaccinations, as the COVID policies were withdrawn. Employers needed to review their health guidelines and decide what is appropriate to ask employees in this new ‘Living with COVID’ environment. Should they mandate employees are vaccinated? Or should it just be encouraged? How do they handle employees who don’t want to get vaccinated or refuse to come back to the office? Health has indeed become a political minefield for everyone, but employees are looking to their employers for direction.
So, in a sea of information and misinformation, our Trust report findings are clear; those with more trust in their healthcare ecosystem are more likely to have better health behaviours and outcomes. As conveyors of health information, we need to consider that personal connections with the channel of health information affect trust. People have more faith and are more likely to believe in someone they have a connection to. Their doctor, pharmacist or employer – these are who people trust and talk to, whether it’s on COVID, their health or our ever-changing and unpredictable weather!
Edelman surveyed 10,000 respondents across 10 countries around the world in February. The data reflects the national population of each country and is nationally representative based on age, region and gender. 1,000 respondents were based in the UK.
About the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health was an online survey involving 10,000 respondents in 10 markets (Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea, the UK and the US), with data reflecting the national population of each country and representative by age, region and gender. In the US, an oversample of respondents from different racial and ethnic communities was also conducted. All data was collected through an online survey from 10-18 February 2022. For more information, please visit: 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health.
To act on the insights from the Edelman Health Trust Special Report we need to partner with our clients to:
- Breakthrough the information barrier – elevate and amplify the voices we want to be heard. Where there is less trust, go direct and go local; use expert voices for those with higher trust
- Build trust across the full health ecosystem- when trust in government lags, other institutions must play a larger role to build confidence in evolving public health measures and expert recommendations
- Own the employer role in health outcomes – employers influence good health choices. Provide clear reliable information, and design inclusive health policies and incentives
- Prepare for the next public health crisis – to build resilience, health organisations must take action to address disparities in health outcomes. Engage on issues such a climate, poverty and racial justice