Consumer trust affects the future of health systems

Here are six things you need to do now to build trust.

Though many people have cheered health care workers as heroes of the pandemic, the reality is that the system of health care isn't so beloved. Consumer trust is lower than ever at a time when competition is growing. When consumers shop for health care in retail clinics and use self-care sites instead of their physicians, that impacts the ability of traditional health system providers to stay afloat. And it can hurt continuity of care.

To regain consumer trust, health care providers must generate true partnerships between clinicians and their patients. At its core, this means that patients must be able to make health care decisions with good clinical and financial information. Traditional providers are now in competition with other sources of health information and experiences, and must appeal to consumers differently than in the past.

Any consumer approach starts with basic health literacy and information sharing. Health systems and accountable care organizations should understand that consumers want more information and data, and want to be at the decision table for their health.

Here's how to start.

Six Key Strategies to Build Trust

  1. Broaden your general communications. Reach beyond current patients to target more consumers. Expand beyond patient portal messages and newsletters to develop consumer-focused blogs, podcasts, videos, and social media posts. Consider all the places you can distribute and discuss news, health advice, policies, and initiatives.
  2. Segment consumer groups to target consumers with similar characteristics Who's most likely to benefit from a particular initiative? Surveys can be an effective way to identify people who are most likely to want to participate—and find those who might need more education about how your initiative can improve their health.
  3. Optimize bidirectional communication. While health care systems and ACOs are good at collecting patient data, sharing that data is a different matter. Do you have a method to share clinical treatment choices with patients? Do you have processes to facilitate patient input? Are you capturing critical data on social determinants, patient attitudes, and self-management to help your organization better develop options for patients?These are all essential to developing more targeted health care with trusting consumers.
  4. Improve overall health literacy. If consumers don't understand what you're trying to do, you won't get results. Consider educational approaches and social media to educate and engage consumers on health and health care.
  5. Embrace data from wearables and devices. Many consumers are willing to share their data with their health care providers, but providers have been hesitant. Formulate the means to integrate that data into your EMR and standardize it for clinicians to view; use it in your discussions with patients.
  6. Help clinicians adapt to what consumers want. While physicians are used to answering patients' "Dr. Google" questions, many remain uncomfortable with genuine shared decision-making. Health systems and ACOs should coach and support clinicians in providing information and processes to respond to what patients need.

Finally, it's crucial to prioritize what consumers want most: real cost transparency. Consumers want to be taken seriously, treated respectfully, and have cost transparency. At the end of the day, consumers will not believe anything you say or do if they think your health system is hiding prices—especially as they're absorbing more of these costs.

CEO and Co-founder of Roji Health Intelligence, Theresa Hush is a health care strategist and change expert with experience across the health care spectrum, including public, non-profit and private sectors.