SHSMD Members Discuss How to Build Public Trust and Confidence in Health Care

By The SHSMD Team posted 14 days ago

doctor with mother and child

Trust is the foundation to any relationship, and it is no different for health care providers and the communities they serve. A recent Edelman report gauging global trust in health care systems shows trust is a key determinant of health for both individual and public health care decisions. In the U.S., 48% of survey respondents felt decreased confidence in their health care system in handling a major health crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled conversations regarding trust in health care systems among communities, adding new pressures to health care marketing, communication and strategy teams. At a recent SHSMD Member Meet Up, Building Public Trust and Confidence, health care strategy leaders discussed challenges, strategies and tactics for building a reliable reputation among their communities.

Here are some key takeaways from the latest SHSMD Member Meet-Up.

Measuring trust in health care can be difficult.

Collectively, participating SHSMD members agreed it’s difficult to get a reliable, measurable and cost-efficient pulse on gauging community trust in their health care organizations. Detailed perception studies, which were viewed as the most reliable measure among the group, can be costly and labor intensive. Other modes of measurement, such as online reviews, may feel polarized and skewed to the skeptics. Accepting anecdotal feedback and channeling it into tailored, trust-building messaging strategies is one way SHSMD members are creating opportunities for patient and community engagement.

Making an authentic alliance with your competition pays off.

SHSMD members agree that there is good reason to take an all-for-one approach in supporting community health. Aligning with your competition publicly in an authentic, genuine and meaningful way can benefit trust in the health care system as a whole. SHSMD member Laura Pickens, vice president, marketing at St. Bernards Healthcare, shared during the member meet-up how her organization received positive community feedback by partnering with their local TV station to produce a live segment and joint social media posts with another local health care provider in an effort to build trust. “It was well received from our community because it didn’t appear competitive in nature,” she said. "We showed that community health issues take a precedence over who provides the care."

Engage your most engaged.

A health care organization’s biggest cheerleaders may be those who are already most engaged. Often labeled as ambassadors, these key community trust-builders can be external or internal and help deliver on your organization’s brand promises. Katie Johnson, vice president marketing and communications at Lake Region Healthcare, shared the role of their Patient Family Advisory Council (PFAC), in which stakeholders or their CEO reach out and ask for opportunities to share what they are hearing among community members. This invaluable anecdotal information drives strategic messaging that is rolled out in a tiered fashion, starting with organization leaders and cascading to front line and medical groups. “While consistent messaging efforts can be challenging, building ambassadors internally who are equipped with answers help them feel confident, which in turn, can build confidence among patients,” said Johnson.

Be prepared for “being wrong.”

At times, health care organizations may receive unexpected feedback or even negative public attention. SHSMD members agree that having a great crisis communication team at your disposal is key to addressing tough press. As a pre-emptive tactic, offer media training to your health care organization’s spokespeople so they can feel confident when responding under pressure. In addition, keep your ambassadors on deck so you can reach out to them for support.


5. Take cues from the American Hospital Association (AHA) Vaccine Confidence marketing campaign.

Increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates nationwide is tethered to trust in our health care system and the science that informs it. Sean Barry, senior associate director of media relations with the AHA, shared his team’s experience in leading a COVID-19 vaccine confidence marketing campaign, otherwise known as the #MyWhy campaign, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He shared their overall approach to the campaign, down to highly targeted tactics that helped boost vaccination rates across the U.S.

  • Create a message that builds trust. The AHA remained steadfast in the delivery of their core message to build trust: The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and rigorously tested, effective, and used by millions of Americans to help us return to pre-COVID activities. Secondly, the vaccine is critical to protecting our health care workforce so we can have quality, effective health care options.

  • Use trusted messengers. By engaging trusted clinical ambassadors, AHA encouraged those to share their #MyWhy message – their “why” for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. AHA selected individuals with high credibility and good presence in identified communities, including local CNOs, CEOs, pediatricians, OBGYNs, and others. They engaged them regularly via email to continue to build a relationship and keep the #MyWhy campaign top of mind.

  • Deliver the trusted message across multiple channels. AHA remained highly targeted with the #MyWhy campaign messaging, using the AHA vaccination map to identify populations with low COVID-19 vaccination rates. Selecting a wide variety of channels targeting at the community level, AHA used radio, “one-minute” digital videos series, Spotify and local print community papers to drive home their #MyWhy campaign.

  • Plan next steps to address changes in community opinion. After two years into the pandemic, AHA is shifting its efforts to help integrate COVID-19 vaccination conversation with other vaccine messages. In addition, they are launching a new effort to help shape public conversation to reinforce the crucial role of hospitals and health systems in serving their communities in light of workforce challenges. Check out AHA’s #WeAreHealthCare campaign to learn more how your organization can help participate.

Building trust in your health care organization takes time, but keep the faith that the work matters. SHSMD’s Roadmap to Building Trust offers additional information to help you along your journey.

Learning More

  • Be sure to visit this page housing the recording from the April 28 Member Meetup and to download SHSMD’s Roadmap to Building Trust.
  • Visit this page by the AHA for resources on seizing the conversation and the important role hospitals have in serving their communities.
  • Interested in connecting with SHSMD members? Participate in the next SHSMD Member Meet Up and stay tuned for future dates.