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If you are part of a U.S. healthcare organization, your company probably communicates continuously with the public about health and wellness. You’re there to provide your patients with valuable information, and they, in turn, are the lifeblood of your business. Your relationship with them depends on trust. In order to build trust with patients and keep it, it’s important to recognize health misinformation as a clear and present danger.
Unfortunately, in recent years, some concerning statistics have come to light:
In 2021, Deloitte shared that 55% of participants in a focus group reported a negative experience where they lost trust in a healthcare provider.
Two-thirds of the participants in a 2013 study reported an “institutional betrayal” by the healthcare system, which was a predictor of disengagement from healthcare.
In 2018, only 34% of Americans “had great confidence in medical leaders.”
Many factors may challenge a person’s trust in the healthcare system: insurance denials, negative experiences with a particular provider, cultural barriers, and readily accessible health information online—which, too often, comprises misinformation.
While the COVID-19 pandemic drew attention to healthcare misinformation, particularly where public health entities are concerned, the issue is not a new one. Note that two of the three statistics above predate the first, frantic mentions of “the novel coronavirus.” As long as there have been snake oil salesmen (literal or metaphorical), there has been healthcare misinformation. The difference today is that it spreads faster than ever thanks, in large part, to digital communication.
Digital media and health misinformation
Digital media inundate consumers with healthcare information and advice—some accurate, some questionable to downright harmful. We may think of digital healthcare misinformation in the form of long, semi-coherent rants. However, certain forms look more innocuous, even authoritative.
Well-crafted—and sometimes, well-intentioned—memes and infographics are as easy to read and understand as they are easy to share. They may contain doctored photos or take images out of context. Memes work by eliciting emotion, often through humor or a sense of solidarity with others, while infographics convey data visually and simply. Social media users sometimes see a well-crafted infographic supported by what looks like real data and believe it. Meanwhile, the detailed truth lies unread and unshared within lengthy articles and gated journals.
Digital misinformation may come packaged in sleek, scientific-sounding language. It often contains pseudo-scientific data or kernels of truth. This overlap makes identifying the full truth more difficult for people without a healthcare background.
At TrendyMinds, we are committed to improving lives, just like you are. In working with healthcare companies, we see the industry’s growing concern about trust. Here are our five guidelines for how health organizations can take steps toward rebuilding and retaining patient trust in the age of misinformation.
1. Acknowledge the role of emotion in patient communication
People generally want to do their best for their health, and their family’s, even if they have picked up some falsehoods along the way. But, they tend to make healthcare decisions from an emotional place. Mistrust in health systems can stem from past experiences that generated fear or anger. Approach your audiences with empathy for the health issues they face, and their reasons for believing misinformation. It’s possible they’re confused by conflicting information, and you can empower them by acknowledging their negative emotions and sorting fact from fiction.
2. Listen to your audience
A critical component of rebuilding trust in healthcare systems and providers is ensuring that all patients, from all populations, feel individually heard and understood by their doctor. Patients often feel better understood by providers who look like them or share their culture. Represent your patient population accurately in imagery that you use on your website or in marketing materials. It can also be beneficial if your staff, or those creating your marketing and sales materials, reflect the demographics of your patient population.
3. Speak in ways that people can easily understand
According to the National Library of Medicine, nine out of 10 adults struggle with health literacy, including those with high general literacy skills. Closely watch vocabulary and reading level, define medical terms, and spell out acronyms that may be unfamiliar. As we mentioned, highly visual forms of information like memes and infographics prove effective in spreading information. They can work for good, too. Displaying information visually makes it easier to understand. Understanding leads to trust.
4. Unify your message across your organization
In addition to their doctor’s exam room, your patients interact with your organization in many places: your website, phone system, billing department, social media, medical assistants, and non-medical personnel. Delivering a consistent experience and message across all areas of your business can build patient trust beyond physician visits. Consistency in communication is a hallmark of all good marketing campaigns, partially because it leads to trust.
If you have not already, establish appropriate responses to potentially sticky health questions. By outlining the best answers to patients’ queries, you’ll build authority and consistency into your patient interactions.
5. Enlist a qualified partner
Many health systems have internal marketing departments. Their expertise is invaluable, but it’s often efficient to partner with an external marketing team. Look for an agency or contractor with experience translating medical truths into memorable messaging. Together, you can generate materials that convey honest, accurate, and compelling health information. You will better connect with patients and rebuild patient trust in this age of misinformation.
Clear, accurate communication forms the backbone of our work — and it’s crucial for building trust. If you’re looking for a partner to help you craft effective healthcare communications strategies, we can help.
Learn more about how healthcare organizations can build trust through content marketing.