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A Closer Look at Public Trust in Healthcare

Paul Keckley

Public trust matters. It’s hard to build and easy to lose.

Of late, subpar performance has drawn public attention to a wide variety of industry notables:

  • General Motors agreed to a fine for malfunctions resulting in 24 recalls in recent years including 2.6M most recently with faulty ignition switches.
  • Security breaches in customer information at TargetMichaels and other retailers hurt sales and cost at least one CEO his job.
  • The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been exposed to questions about its safety record, notably delays in treating veterans in its hospitals in 9 states.

Entire industries have seen their public trust erode as a result of misdeeds or self-inflicted wounds—the investment banking industry’s mortgage loan debacle, venerable news organizations from lack of objectivity, industrial food manufacturers from unhealthy supply chain management and so on. And industries like higher education and others face tough questions about their value proposition, as if decades of good will no longer matter.

In most cases, leaders of the most prominent organizations in these industries accept responsibility, appoint task forces to investigate and address their issues with the media and investors head-on. Their  trade groups, likewise, announce  new initiatives to restore public confidence. They hire professionals to bolster their influence. and in some cases, rebuild their reputation.

Public trust in industries matters as much as confidence in the individual companies and organizations themselves. An industry’s reputation and good will is always buoyed by the reputation of the companies that are its marque market leaders, and always at risk as a result of the misdeeds of any member, known or unknown.

By and large, excepting occasional drug manufacturing scares or recent well-publicized safety issues in a few of the 3000U.S. compounding pharmacies, our industry has remained virtually unscathed from the ever-more-skeptical public’s thirst for muckraking. The U.S. health system enjoys the confidence of the majority, especially older adults for whom it is always top of mind.

But the reality is this: the US health industry is susceptible to erosion of its public trust, not as a result of the Affordable Care Act  nor political in fighting in Congress.

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