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Global consumers are turning to new sources for health information

The trend: Consumers around the world are losing trust in their healthcare systems and providers. That’s the starting point for the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer: Trust and Health report.

  • More than 12,000 consumers were surveyed in 13 countries: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the US. Responses from Nigeria were not included in the final results due to methodology.

Factors affecting erosion of trust:

  1. Economic fears, beginning with inflation, cost, and lack of affordability.
  2. Polarization stemming from distrust in media, a sense the system is unfair, and societal fears.
  3. Dispersion of authority. Although national authorities and medical professionals are still trusted, friends and family have surged in influence.
  4. Patient empowerment means people are more engaged with health information and comparing findings. They expect healthcare providers to treat them as an equal partner.

Piling on: Since the pandemic began, numerous studies and reports have documented consumers’ growing distrust in healthcare providers, insurers, and the system itself.

  • Trilliant Health’s 2022 Trends Shaping the Healthcare Economy report revealed that consumers’ trust in doctors and hospitals progressively declined throughout the pandemic.
  • Insurers are consistently seen as the least trustworthy among all healthcare stakeholders, per that report.
  • Medical misinformation was cited in a recent de Beaumont/Morning Consult poll of physicians and patients.

What’s new now: Consumers everywhere now expect every organization in their country to play a role in making them as healthy as possible.

  • While 87% said their country’s health system played a leading role...
  • Employers (79%), government (76%), business (70%), and the media (66%) were also considered responsible for an individual’s health and well-being.
  • The term “health” has broadened to include mental, physical, and social health (friends and family), and community livability (safe environment, healthy planet).

Patient empowerment is a double-edged sword. Just as consumers are expecting more institutions to care for their health, they’re also turning to online sources, friends, and family as trusted sources of health information.

  • 44% of young adults (ages 18 to 34) said the average person who has done their own research is just as knowledgeable as a doctor on most health matters, per Edelman’s findings.
  • Among those who think their healthcare system is failing, 49% have followed advice from friends and family that contradicts their doctor’s advice, and 29% who think their healthcare system is working did the same.
  • Social media is gaining trust: 47% of respondents who don’t trust their healthcare system followed advice they found on social media, even though it contradicts their doctor’s advice. And 25% of those who trust their healthcare system did the same.

Our take: The trend isn’t new, but growing global distrust in healthcare institutions is a threat to government, businesses, and media organizations, too. It’s being addressed in small ways by some digital platforms, but more serious efforts are necessary.

  • Meta’s independent oversight panel issued a report that recommended changes to its misinformation policy while pointing out the company’s failure to address the impact of its social media platformsFacebook, Instagram, WhatsApp—on public health and human rights, per The Verge.
  • Telemental health provider Talkspace launched a Mental Health Conditions Library that is free to people looking online for clinically evaluated information on mental health.

Small steps, but acknowledgement of a problem is the first step to solving it.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Digital Health Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the healthcare industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.