The 2016 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER shares disturbing news about a widening gap in trust in all major institutions between the informed public and mass population. While trust is generally rising among more educated, affluent audiences, trust levels have barely moved since the Great Recession in the remaining 85 percent representing the mass population in the 16th year of our survey of more than 33,000 respondents.

The story for the healthcare industry is a cautionary tale and one that bears watching. At a global level, and using general population (informed public plus mass population) findings* with 28 countries surveyed, healthcare is near the bottom with a trust score of 61, just ahead of Telecommunications, Energy and Financial Services. In the U.S. it is tied for second to last with the automotive industry, and is doing just a little better than Financial Services, which although in last place has experienced a remarkable rebound in trust since the financial crisis.

Digging deeper into the industries that collectively represent healthcare and perceptions of the general population, there are warning signs for the pharmaceutical industry in particular. Consider this: while the moves may be small, trust has increased at a global level in four of the five health subsectors – Hospitals/Clinics, Consumer Health, Biotech and even Health Insurers, who were lower ranked among this peer set last year. Only trust in Pharmaceuticals has declined. And in the U.S., trust has increased in only two of the five subsectors, with both Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology declining by two points and Consumer Health remaining flat.

Put another way, global trust in those on the front lines of delivering care or on the shelf delivering value to consumers is on the rise, while trust in the research-based companies that deliver the innovation through these channels is declining. If these trends continue, we’ll experience a growing trust gap between those who do the innovating and those who deliver on innovation, in addition to the gap already evident between the informed public and mass population. Lesser trust in pharma and biotech companies carries with it broad implications for the ability to attract and keep employees, license to operate in the larger health and business ecosystem, and greater support for regulations that may threaten a license to lead.

Some takeaways for healthcare companies in general:

  1. The Informed Public Isn’t Enough: For the healthcare industry, there is a seven-point trust gap between the informed public and the mass population. While this is less than the 12-point gap we see globally across all institutions, it suggests a need to address both audiences and not rely on communications to the informed public to trickle down to the mass population. Communicating with the informed public is insufficient in this increasingly peer-driven, horizontal word, where the links between these audiences are increasingly tenuous. Our communications programs must reach deeper into communities and engage a wide array of stakeholders.
  1. Solve Problems When Government Can’t. Of 28 countries surveyed, business is more trusted than government in 21 countries; business is the leading institution trusted to keep pace with the changing times, whereas government is last. Eighty-percent of the general population globally – and 87 percent in the U.S. - agree that business can both make a profit and improve economic and social conditions of the community in which it operates. We suggest the general population does not believe healthcare should be free as much as they believe healthcare companies have a larger obligation to address social issues while they run their business and generate profit.
  1. Address People’s Expectations: For healthcare, the largest gaps in consumer expectations and how they see healthcare performing lie in the areas of transparency, embracing sustainable business practices and demonstrating leadership that represents the interests of all stakeholders. Addressing these areas should pay both short- and long-term dividends. The general population has given business license to lead and wants to see CEOs engaged in societal issues. We believe they want transparency and leadership – to understand what, why and how – as it relates to the decision-making about all aspects of healthcare, from drug pricing to the care they are receiving.
  1. Align the CEO with Societal Issues: Societal issues are business issues. The CEO cannot afford to be focused only on the financials and investment community. The CEO’s engagement with societal issues is mission-critical to earning the trust and advocacy of the organization’s own employees as well as those outside of the company. Only 51 percent globally trust healthcare CEOs, and only 41 percent of employees of healthcare companies say their own CEO is engaged in societal issues. Knowing of the deep commitments many healthcare companies have to societal issues, turning up the volume on these initiatives and ensuring the CEO is rightfully engaged with them should advance trust.
  1. Start at Home: Seventy-one percent of employees who reported they work in the healthcare sector say they trust the company for which they work. That means nearly 3 in 10 employees do not trust their own employer. This is the lowest employee trust score of the five sectors we studied and strongly suggests that new behaviors demonstrating transparency, business practices and leadership begin within the organization. In contrast, 80 percent of financial services employees trust their own employer. In a peer-to-peer driven world, no health care company can afford to leave 30 percent of its workforce as distrusters.

The general population expects more from healthcare companies in way of transparency, sustainable business practices and inclusive leadership. They want companies to be involved in solving societal problems and have greater faith in their ability to be successful on this front than government. All healthcare companies, and the pharmaceutical industry in particular, would be well advised to heed their call to drive the trust that is essential to the industry’s ability to deliver on its mission.

Kym White is global sector chair, Health.

*All data points in this blog post reference global general population data unless specifically noted otherwise.