July 11, 2021

Report: Physicians, Patients Say They Lost Trust in Healthcare Systems & Administrators

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development | News

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Confidence in the U.S. healthcare system and administrators took a hit during the pandemic, reports NORC, a nonpartisan research group at the University of Chicago. In a survey commissioned by the ABIM Foundation, NORC polled 600 physicians and 2,069 consumers on their sentiments regarding one another, and their perceptions of healthcare organizations.

General findings

Survey feedback indicates clinicians and patients generally trust one another, but don’t trust the healthcare system or leaders running healthcare organizations.

Specific findings included the following:

  • 30% of physicians said their trust in the U.S. healthcare system and healthcare organization leaders decreased.
  • 32% of consumers also said their trust in the healthcare system decreased, though they do trust doctors and nurses.
  • About half of physicians (49%) and patients (59%) said the healthcare system discriminates against people.
  • 12% of patients said they have been discriminated by a healthcare facility or office.
  • 41% of female patients reported discrimination based on gender, compared to 12% of male patients.
  • Black patients are twice as likely to report discrimination by a doctor.
  • About a third of physicians (32%) have experienced discrimination by a patient on the basis of their race/ethnicity.
  • 90% of physicians believe patients are able to schedule follow-up appointments, but only 76% of patients said they are able to do so.
  • Young adults, Blacks, Hispanics, and people without a college degree or from low-income households reported more barriers to complying with doctor recommendations.

(You can read the full report here.)

Addressing the trust gap

Before serving as a healthcare executive coach, I served as a marketing and communications executive for a large multi-state health system. Some of my responsibilities included employee, community, and physician engagement initiatives. In those days, our teams did a lot of research into public perception and trust. Generally, we found consumers associate the word “hero” with doctors, “mom” with nurses, and “factory” with hospitals. Put simply, people trust people but not hospitals or systems. Consumers and clinicians also tend to view hospital administrators as people running the factory, prioritizing profits over people.

The breakdown of trust, exacerbated by a brutal pandemic, presents considerable risk for all aspects of healthcare operations. If you sense a hint of dissent, distrust or dissatisfaction in your organization, it’s possible that your ability to deliver quality patient care, remain financially strong, retain clinicians and more will decline and swell into very big problems.

For those reasons, astute healthcare leaders recognize they can’t afford to neglect or downplay trust issues. It’s why many are investing in coordinated physician alignment. As coaches, we work with not only new senior executive teams but also teams that are struggling to achieve levels of accountability and results because they are still stuck in a space where they haven’t developed trust with each other.

General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, argues that teams are most effective when they trust each other and have a shared purpose. Authors also explain the need for not only trust but connectivity among otherwise separate elements of an organization. I often like to think about healthcare organization as a very complex team of teams where everything is interconnected, and teams would benefit from moving away from independent team structures and operating more as interdependent teams. One decision or movement can and will affect other people outside of the people in the room. Healthcare is a team sport with a defined purpose centered around the patient.

The call for physician alignment

In a previous post, we covered how leaders at Conway Regional Health (Arkansas) reversed physician burnout and attrition. In short, Conway administrators faced a pending physician exodus, with physicians recruiting their peers to open a competing hospital — a move that would have cost Conway an estimated 40% loss in revenue. Conway leaders were able to prevent that outcome, replacing distrust with a thriving partnership.

The success story didn’t happen by accident, wishful thinking, or Kumbaya-style appeals, of course. It took an intentional, guided transformation beginning with Conway executive leaders examining their own strengths, weaknesses, leadership and communication styles. Aided by MEDI Leadership coaches, Conway leaders and physicians were able to rebuild trust and a genuine partnership. (Read the full story here.)

Taking the next step

If distrust is brewing in your organization, now is the best time to explore how an approach like Conway’s can reverse that trend. We invite you to request a complimentary exploratory session by clicking here. By the end of our time together, you’ll walk away with more clarity regarding your options and next steps.

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About the author

Deena Fischer, MA, ACC

A certified executive coach, Deena Fischer, MA, ACC leads business development and operations for MEDI Leadership.

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