“Every disease is a physician.” ~ Irish Proverb
Have you ever experienced an unanticipated, three-day whirlwind in a hospital’s Trauma Unit followed by seemingly endless tests and diagnostic procedures? For yourself? When you visit a doctor or hospital, it’s likely with a sense of trust and hope. You’re at your most vulnerable, but you trust the doctor and you know s/he wants to do the best for you.
Unfortunately, the relationship isn’t always so straightforward for the doctor. Of course s/he wants the best for you, that’s why they joined the profession. But increasingly, physicians are being pulled by powerful forces that affect their decisions and the way you will be treated.
For we who want to visit a doctor or hospital in good faith, we also need to acknowledge there’s a ‘dark heart’ to medicine – created by the pharmaceutical industry which see doctors as little more than the deliverer of its expensive and sometimes dangerous drugs. And often, it is this dark heart that bring trust into question.
The push by drug companies to make even bigger profits has dire consequences, one that Professor Ian Roberts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine describes as “industry slaughter.” Every year an estimated 100,000 Americans and 30,000 Britons die from an adverse reaction to a drug prescribed by their doctor and those are only the deaths that are identified as being the result of a drug.
Having been discharged and prescribed two new drugs, I researched a bit more. In a 2010 Gallup Health and Healthcare survey, 85% of Americans over 65 are confident in their doctor’s advice. 67% of those between 50 and 65 are confident, as are 65% of people under 50. This surprised me so I dug further.
Americans’ trust in the medical profession has plummeted in recent years, and lags well behind public attitudes towards doctors in many other countries, according to Professor Robert Blendon in a 2012 study at the Harvard School of Public Health. Per the survey of people in 29 countries, the U.S. ranked 24th in public trust of doctors.
What’s driving trust levels down is that physicians in the U.S., as groups and leaders, are not seen as broad public advocates for health and health care issues, stated Blendon. “In the U.S., they’re seen more as a group concerned with their own professional problem and economic issues.”
I suspect there are endless studies that support or dispute these conflicting views. A few years ago I attended a full-day workshop led by renown trust expert Dennis Reina. One of several takeaways was a definition of interpersonal trust: An expectation about future behavior of another person and an accompanying feeling of calmness, confidence and security.
This leaves me wondering, who are the pawns in our healthcare system? The doctors or the patients?
Most of us value trust. We want to trust others. And in many cases, we do. If trust is a matter that you question (not simply with health care), you can consider looking inward to your own integrity and believability with these three practices:
- Show people you care about them. When people know you care about their interests as much as your own, they will trust you. If they know you are out for yourself, their internal alarm sounds and they will say to themselves, “watch out for that person.”
- Say “I don’t know.” Admit that you don’t know and say it upfront and direct. You’ll get a lot of credibility for that.
- Recognize the need for risk. The extension of trust always involves an element of risk. There is no guarantee that the other person is deserving of your trust, but once the trust has proven well-founded, it can create even greater levels of trust.