The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer paints a sobering picture of the state of trust around the world, demonstrating a decline in trust in the four institutions we study (business, government, NGOs and the media) as well as a trust gap that has widened from 12 to 15-points between the informed public and mass population.

Against that backdrop, the healthcare industry is making slow but steady progress. Trust in healthcare, as well as in all five subsectors of healthcare we study (pharmaceutical/drug companies, consumer health/over the counter, biotech/life sciences, insurance and hospitals/clinics), is actually on the rise, gaining momentum from last year and reversing a backwards trend we saw last year for pharma (globally and in the U.S.) and biotech (in the U.S. only).

However, while we have forward momentum, trust in healthcare and most of its verticals remains low relative to other industries globally, and ahead of only financial services in the U.S. Globally, despite promising gains, pharma, consumer health and insurance providers on average remain in “neutral” versus “trusted” territory. Pharma may be up four points in the U.S., but that gives it a score of just 51, squeaking into the “neutral” range by only one point.

Pharma in particular continues to face headwinds, with the Trust Barometer showing that globally:

  • Approximately 8 in 10 people (82 percent) believe the government needs to do more to regulate the pharmaceutical industry; and
  • 8 in 10 people (80 percent) believe that the pharmaceutical industry puts profits over people.

Trust in healthcare and its component sub-sectors also varies widely across the 28 markets studied, as well as between the informed public and mass population—reminding us, as ever, that healthcare is local. Surprisingly, a new breakdown of trust in the healthcare sub-sectors among age cohorts shows little difference across generations—a slightly more trusting younger audience presumably consumes less healthcare, and a slightly more jaded older population presumably has more familiarity with the system.

The healthcare industry needs to understand what is expected of it and work to close the gaps between consumer expectations and perceived industry performance. Industry has made progress narrowing the gap on the two biggest drivers of healthcare trust year over year: protection of consumer data and quality control. They will be rewarded for narrowing that still-sizeable gap even further, as well as addressing the biggest gaps between expectations and performance — demonstrating transparency and authenticity in their actions, and showing that they are equally concerned about a wide variety of stakeholders.

Healthcare is headed in the right direction, but has considerable work to do to become the trusted industry it deserves to be.

Kym White is global sector chair, Health.