The National Journal has released a Special Report. The Report features a series of four articles: Restoration Calls – Fixing America’s Crumbling Foundation. Among these articles is: “Why Do We Trust Doctors?” It contains results of a Gallup poll, showing trust in doctors is at all-time high of 70% over the last ten years.
This is intriguing considering numerous media articles on physician personal profiteering and physician partnerships in technologies such as imaging equipment for financial gain.
The article begins, ”We’re cynics about insurance companies and critics of big health companies. So why do we still believe in physicians?”
Why indeed? The author of the April 26 piece, Margot Sanger-Katz, tells the story of 60 year old Mary Morse-Dwelley of Maine who has undergone 22 operations to close an abdominal incision and who has had her gallbladder, uterus, and 2 feet of intestine removed. She has spent two years in bed. Despite this long surgical ordeal, she implicitly trusts her surgeon. So does the American public, if you believe Gallup.
When patients are asked why they trust doctors, patients say they see doctors as someone who is trying their best to help them. They do not see them as agents of government, insurance companies, or institutions. They trust the interpersonal face-to-face relationship and the motives of their doctors.
Doctors are respected for their altruism. On the other hand, patients may distrust the insurance system which stands as an intermediary between them and the doctor. They trust the face-to face relationship with the doctor and see him or her as someone trying to fix their problem.
In most cases, Internet information has helped cement the patient-doctor relationship. As a consequence of online-information, doctors are more likely to describe the downside of treatment, put the odds of success in perspective, and give more respect to the patient’s choice. In a sense, doctors are more likely to team up with the patient.
In this process, doctors have slowly learned a lesson. A honest appraisal of the situation, based on data and an honest apology should things go wrong goes a long way towards preserving patient-doctor trust. Patients can forgive honest mistakes or unexpected complications but not denials or cover-ups.
Richard L. Reece is a retired pathologist and the author of The Health Reform Maze: A Blueprint for Physician Practices. He blogs about health reform, medical innovation, and physician practices at medinnovationblog.