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September 12, 2019
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David Burda
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Consumerism Outcomes System Dynamics
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Do You Trust Your Doctor?

When people my age were kids, there was a good chance that their parents wanted them to be doctors. Some wanted their children to be lawyers. I don’t recall anyone wanting their offspring to be reporters. 

Nearly 60 years later, a new report from the Pew Research Center suggests that most parents were on to something. The report said most Americans trust medical scientists a lot more than people working in five other fields, including the news media. More on that later.   

The 96-page report, Trust and Mistrust in Americans’ View of Scientific Experts, is based on a Pew survey of a representative sample of 4,464 adults age 18 and older conducted in January 2019. Pew asked 2,238 of those adults specifically about medical doctors. Pew released the report last month.

The report paints a complicated portrait of what people think of their doctors. On one hand, they trust them. But on the other, they think something funny is going on. Here’s what I mean.

Of the survey respondents, 74 percent said they have a “mostly positive” overall view of medical doctors. To wit:

  • 91 percent said doctors “do a good job providing recommendations” “all,” “most” or “some” of the time
  • 91 percent said doctors “provide fair and accurate information” “all,” “most” or “some” of the time
  • 90 percent said doctors “care about the best interests of their patients” “all,” “most” or “some” of the time

But at the same time:

  • Only 15 percent said doctors “are transparent about conflicts of interest” “all” or “most” of the time
  • Only 12 percent said doctors “admit mistakes and take responsibility” “all” or “most” of the time

Further:

  • 50 percent said doctors’ professional misconduct is a “very big” or “moderately big” problem
  • 30 percent said doctors face serious consequences for misconduct “only a little” or “none” of the time

It’s hard to know what’s really going on in the minds of these adults. But some other survey findings do provide a few clues.  Pew asked the respondents about various factors that make them trust scientific research more or less.

Among the factors that make them trust research more are the research data being openly available to the public and the research findings being reviewed by an independent committee.  Among the factors that make them trust research less are the research being funded by an industry group and researchers themselves receiving financial incentives from industry groups.

Applied to doctors, we’re talking about transparency and financial conflicts of interest. Patients want their doctors to be transparent. And they want their doctors to make medical decisions untethered to any personal financial considerations. 

That’s a challenge under value-based reimbursement schemes. Those models change how health plans pay doctors and how doctors treat their patients. It’s incumbent upon doctors, then, to explain how the new models work and why what doctors are doing is in their patients’ best interests.

If not, physicians will end up like the news media. Only 47 percent of the public said it has either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the media to act in the best interest of the public.  Hey, at least we’re not elected officials, who got only 35 percent of the respondents to agree to that. 

Thank you.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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