In January, with the launch of Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer, I wrote about trust being essential to return to a healthy society. The newly released 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health has proven that point and more.

Our study, conducted in February, found trust is a determinant of health, essential not only for personal health and health outcomes but also for people’s consideration of how their own behaviors impact the wellbeing of others.

Trust in the health ecosystem – which includes individuals delivering care, national and local authorities overseeing public health guidelines, global advisory organizations and health companies – can also bode well for the health of individuals. Yet there are two sides of the coin. Those with higher levels of trust in the health ecosystem are more likely to be proactive and preventive in their health behaviors. However, those with lower levels of trust are less likely to be vaccinated against Covid-19, for example, and are also more likely to doubt health experts when public health recommendations shift.

For those within the healthcare sector, these gaps are alarming but likely not surprising. We’ve long spoken about the level of trust, in government and in health systems, needed to support vaccine uptake and to follow public health recommendations as they change with new data. Yet Edelman’s new report uncovers ways to break through to those less trusting of authorities and those who have tuned out health news.

We found information is the key to unlocking better health outcomes. When asked what stood in the way of taking better care of themselves, respondents point to information at nearly the same level as cost as the key barrier. A lack of health information, changing health recommendations or contradictory advice from experts are all cited as barriers on this topic. There was also a 10-point decline, since 2017, in one’s ability to find answers about healthcare questions and make informed decisions for themselves and their family, with drops seen in nearly all markets and across demographics globally.

The challenge of information apathy is something that must be addressed across those in the health ecosystem. For business in particular, both those focused on health and not, there is also a key role to close this gap in personal care. In their communications about health, businesses must consider the message, the messenger and the mode:

Employer channels are among the most believable sources for health information, behind national and global health authorities. Businesses must use their platforms to go directly to their employees with health information. There is also public permission (and an expectation) that employers expand their role in health – nearly 8 in 10 employees say they expect their employer to play a meaningful role in making sure they’re as healthy as possible, including in addressing mental health and burnout.

Internally and externally, businesses need to elevate the voices of trusted, culturally representative spokespersons in health, like doctors and experts. They must also reach those who are less trusting by meeting them locally where they are, in the community, online and at work.

For health companies in particular, the report found that most respondents say earning or keeping their trust is reliant on building and maintaining trust in national health systems. This requires sustained, inclusive, collaborative efforts across those within the health ecosystem – the blame game on who is most at fault for cracks in the system hurts trust in all.

Trust is built through action – all players involved in the health ecosystem must do their part in addressing the disparities that impact equal and fair access to healthcare services, products and systems.

Of course, trust is not the only piece needed to build better health outcomes. Trust is built through action – all players involved in the health ecosystem must do their part in addressing the disparities that impact equal and fair access to healthcare services, products and systems.

Kirsty Graham is Global Chair of Health.