Maintaining Trust as the Definition of Health Evolves
Health has become multifaceted, and those who can bring solutions forward have a responsibility to see health beyond purely the physical.
People now see the definition of health through the lens of financial, environmental and emotional, as well as physical, factors.
Stakeholders within healthcare companies have increased expectations to help individual patients and larger communities thrive.
Organizations can take specific steps to strengthen trust and deliver change.
The world we’re living in is moving through a significant shift, one that is propelled by intense polarization, continued misinformation, the impact of climate change and a mental health crisis that is likely far from reaching its peak. Yet, as we collectively face these challenges, we see an opportunity for healthcare—and health organizations—to move to the forefront of solutions.
When I first read through the findings coming out of our 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health, I was immediately struck by how clearly the public sees the impact social and environmental issues have on their mental and physical health. I thought of the mental impact individuals likely feel as wildfires creep closely toward their homes or the stress parents or caregivers may feel as economic warnings continue to top media headlines. The realities of the world today mean health has become multifaceted, and those who can bring solutions forward have a responsibility to see health beyond purely the physical.
Last year, our 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health uncovered a correlation between trust and personal health: those who reported more trust in the health ecosystem were more likely to take preventative care measures. This year, the data uncovered that while no core institution is trusted when it comes to addressing health, there are high expectations of all institutions to play a role in ensuring people are healthy – and we found people have a broad definition of what that means.
Globally, our 2023 survey shows that 66% of people believe that “being healthy” is defined by four elements: their physical and mental wellbeing, social health and community livability. Strikingly, more people reported thinking about their mental health (91%) than their physical health (88%) when asked how they define being healthy. Of the top societal factors negatively impacting their health (across physical, mental, social, and community health), respondents put inflation at the highest (77%), followed by the past several years of pandemic restrictions at 75%, lack of trust and pollution (67% each), polarization (66%), climate change (65%), burnout and misinformation (64% each). The definition of what it means to be healthy, and the challenges to achieving this, is seen also through the lens of financial, environmental and emotional factors – well beyond the physical.
Building and sustaining trust is key to enabling better health across all four dimensions. With an expansive definition of health comes high expectations from stakeholders—expectations that require healthcare companies, organizations and leaders to work towards strategies that help patients and communities thrive in totality.
With an expansive definition of health comes high expectations from stakeholders.
The welcome news is that there are clear steps organizations can take to strengthen trust and deliver change through communications and actions that reflect this evolved understanding of health.
Bring more transparency and engagement to your research and scientific process. If health experts are trying to get people to change their behavior, 60% of respondents say it’s important for them to be “included in the science” and 67% say it’s important for them to be “given a voice”. Companies can deliver on this by evolving programs and partnerships to help the audiences better understand their specific scientific methods and discoveries, learn more about clinical trials and create new ways to collaborate.
Be a conduit for trusted health information via verified resources. As misinformation continues to circulate, health companies have a responsibility to empower consumers and stakeholders by providing information through trusted voices. For example, we know those with higher trust in the health ecosystem think it’s most important that health experts use clear, informal language when recommending a behavior change. They are most likely to trust doctors about health information and believe information from national health authorities. On the other hand, those with lower trust are most likely to trust friends and family on health information. They believe clear and honest proof of credentials and the opportunity to ask health experts questions if they recommend a behavior change are most important. Because of these critical nuances, a diverse and comprehensive communications strategy is critical when sharing information and educating the public on science and health topics.
Go deep within communities in your markets to engage with audiences and understand the unique cultural, societal, and environmental factors impacting individual health at the local level. To do this, health organizations must view patients as whole individuals, not only treating medical needs, but working with partners to provide information and support to ease concerns and making them feel cared for on a personal level amidst social and environmental issues also impacting their wellbeing.
Erase the lines traditionally drawn between mental, physical, community and social health. Stakeholders do not see the four as separate priorities—they are one in the same. Seeking out new partnerships and creating programs that bring together multifaceted solutions inside and outside of healthcare are vital. By addressing societal and community issues, our research shows mental and physical wellbeing is likely to improve as well.