Physician: Insurance companies, negative press coverage erode patient trust in the profession

Most physicians say that patients have less trust in their doctors than they did 10 years ago—and one doctor thinks she knows why.

In a recent poll, Sermo, a global social network for physicians, 87% of U.S. doctors said that patient trust in the profession is eroding. Worldwide, 78% of the 2,000 physicians polled also said patients trust their physicians less than they did a decade ago, according to data the organization sent to FierceHealthcare.

Linda Girgis, M.D.

So, what’s behind the change in patients’ attitude? In a conversation with FierceHealthcare, Linda Girgis, M.D., a family medicine doctor in South River, New Jersey, ticked off a number of reasons.

“I think some of it has to do with other parties stepping into the middle of the doctor-patient relationship,” she said. For example, insurance companies are making decisions that deny patients the tests or medications prescribed by their doctors, she added.

In fact, doctors are increasingly fed up with prior authorizations from health plans for physician-ordered medical tests, clinical procedures, medications and medical devices that question the judgement of healthcare professionals.

Another factor is the negative news that gets reported about doctors, Girgis said. Reports about doctors being charged and found guilty of healthcare fraud leads patients to see doctors as greedy.

“The media has a big role to play,” Girgis said. While patients have the right to know about physician wrongdoing, the media shouldn’t only write about those doctors, she said, adding that patients would have more balanced picture if the media also reported on the positive things doctors are doing to help people.

Trust is a big component of the relationship between patients and healthcare professionals and can, in fact, be eroded by misconduct on the part of those professionals, new research has confirmed. The U.K. study examined the most prevalent forms of wrongdoing and how that misconduct undermines trust in healthcare professionals and confidence in the system.

And health information technology isn’t helping. More than 50% of consumers are skeptical about the benefits of healthcare information technologies, including patient portals, mobile apps and electronic health records, according to Black Book research.

However, doctors can take action to foster feelings of trust and safety during a patient encounter. One healthcare network, Hawaii Pacific Health, uses a checklist to improve the patient experience during office visits and trains its doctors to take steps such as sitting at eye level with their patients and practicing reflective listening, for example.