Americans’ lack of trust in healthcare was perhaps the biggest issue plaguing leaders and healthcare professionals at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference this week.
Like polluted air or water, the lack of trust in healthcare hurts everyone, Dr. Celine Gounder, senior fellow and editor-at-large at the Kaiser Family Foundation told Fortune’s Maria Aspan at a panel hosted by CVS Health. Gounder spoke alongside panelists Dr. Sree Chaguturu, executive vice president and chief medical officer of CVS Health, and Dr. Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association.
Gounder experienced the “war on science” firsthand when her husband, soccer journalist Grant Wahl, suddenly and unexpectedly died at the World Cup in Qatar.
“I knew the moment I got the news from a friend in Qatar that his death would be turned into a vaccine disinformation engine,” Gounder said. “I needed to address the disinformation around his death; unfortunately, we live in a world where everything you do could be twisted for this purpose.”
Gounder, Chaguturu, and Resneck addressed the causes and consequences of declining trust in healthcare—and what we can do to make things better.
The deregulation of cable news and the rollback of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which required newscasters to present differing viewpoints for controversial issues, have made communication around science more difficult, Gounder said.
Resneck said the American Medical Association has seen a staggering increase in health issues being politicized over the past five years, thanks to the popularity of social media.
Still, the medical industry must be accountable for mistakes that contributed, he said, adding that more people are willing to believe misinformation because of factors like sky-high medical bills, healthcare inequality, and the shock and trauma of COVID-19
Declining trust in American healthcare is placing a heavy burden on the industry at the worst possible time.
“At a time where we’re seeing alarming burnout levels among physicians to now have this stacked on top of it is just incredibly alarming,” Resneck said.
As a result, we’re even less equipped to handle the next pandemic than we were in 2020, leaders including Chelsea Clinton told Fortune at the conference.
Reliable healthcare workers hold the keys to restoring trust, according to Chaguturu.
“People still trust their clinicians. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists lead professions with the highest level of trust,” he said. “One of the most important ways to fight misinformation is to champion clinicians patients see and serve.”
CVS Health is supporting its pharmacists through training at the local and regional level. It’s also working to expand resources and care to more underserved communities.
Gounder said the healthcare industry needs to deliver results for patients in order to regain trust.
“Trust starts by delivering something that’s reliable and credible,” she said. “You can’t just do a marketing campaign to build trust.”
Resneck said listening to patients is the key to rebuilding relationships.
“Open communication makes a big difference…constantly measuring patient satisfaction, how you engage patients in the development of your products,” he said.