Public health agencies that communicated clearly, led with science, and provided protective resources were able to build patient trust more than those agencies that appeared to be politically motivated, according to a new report in Health Affairs obtained via email. [Patient Engagement HIT]
The challenge? Perceptions of how agencies communicate are certainly in the eye of the beholder. While one individual might see advice for universal masking as science-based public health communication, another might see it as politically motivated, setting the scene for the public health trust problem the US has faced since the pandemic’s onset in 2020.
“Public trust in government and other major institutions across US society has been declining for decades, and the pandemic has raised concerns about trust in public health agencies in particular,” the Harvard University researchers wrote in the study. “Opportunities for misinformation to take root in the current social and traditional media environments raise concerns that trust will decline further.”
In order for public health agencies, each at the federal, state, and local levels, to recoup their image, they will need to better understand what influences an individual’s trust.
In a February 2022 survey of around 4,200 adults, the researchers found that people’s trust differed by agency and how that agency communicated. Generally speaking, trust in any public health agencies was low.
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Trust in federal entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Surgeon General, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t even reach the 50 percent mark. Trust in local and state public health agencies was even lower.
Rather, people trusted their doctors and nurses, plus the scientists researching COVID-19.