THE BLOG

Do You Trust Your Doctor?

17/10/2016 14:02

Doctors have topped the league tables for the most-trusted professionals since 1983. 89% of us believe they tell the truth. We assume that their expertise and experience is diligently applied in making the right diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment for our various ailments.

But it hasn't always been a two-way street.

Some doctors have been guilty of the kind of unhelpful paternalism that shuts down conversations and sends the patient away with a prescription, a pat on the head and too little information.

Not so long ago, the doctor always knew best and, as medicine had always been a field where information was controlled and hard for most of us to understand, it was difficult to disagree with them.

The good news is that this is changing.

Few of us are willing to be passive consumers (or patients, if we're less lucky) - we want to be more involved in managing our own health journeys. Most of us (1 in 3 adults) inform ourselves on the Internet before visiting a doctor. We ask our providers for data to validate our personal medical and health choices and track our own well-being. Health professionals have recognized the shift and are increasingly embracing a more collaborative approach to medicine where patients are "activated": encouraged to manage their own health and coached by their caregivers.

So far, so good, but though this is the ideally balanced relationship we expect to enjoy more regularly in the future, in practice we haven't quite reached this level of harmony.

Does your doctor trust you?

The NHS Five Year Forward View talks about the need to support people to manage their health and care. However, a 2015 survey of 1759 clinicians indicated that, in reality, not everyone is on board - with scores ranging widely, from 36.4 to 100 (where 100 indicated full support and 0 meant none at all).

Though the average score from the doctors questioned (66.4) suggests that the majority of them, in the UK at least, are interested in sharing decision-making and engaging to help us make better choices, it's clear there are some reservations.

In this particular study, by far the greatest barrier discussed wasn't a practical concern such as lack of time; it was 'a lack of ability/willingness from patients to take a more active role in their care.'

So, can we be trusted to manage our own health?

The answer is less straight-forward than you might think.

A recent, global study - the Future Health Index - showed that that there is a discrepancy between what we as patients think we understand about health, and what healthcare professionals think we do.

Only 40% of the 2,659 healthcare professionals questioned agree that patients have enough knowledge to manage their own health effectively, compared to a much more self-confident 69% of the (25,000+) patient population.

The reality probably lies somewhere in the middle - some of us do need more education and advice, but possibly not as much as the medical community believes.

A bigger issue is how can all us of be motivated to improve our health choices? If less than half of us regularly keep track of our weight and diet (47% and 42%, respectively), if only 50% take their medicine on time or at all and only one-third of patients (34%) keep track of exercise routines, it's no wonder that some doctors are less enthused about the idea of taking on the job of getting us to take better care of ourselves.

Do we trust the healthcare system?

Although most of us do trust our doctors, and healthcare professionals are generally very committed to helping us become more empowered, the systems that our doctors work in are not so popular.

In the FHI research, 72% of healthcare professionals and 57% of patients overall, say that they trust of the healthcare system in their country. Though there's a clear gap in opinion between the healthcare community and its patients in most countries, in the UK this was much closer - 77% of HCPs and 70% of patients trust the NHS.

The rates in other parts of Europe and emerging countries however, were much lower; in Brazil, perhaps unsurprisingly given recent events, only 35% of HCPs and 20% of patients see their system as trustworthy.

Why we need to trust each other

Faced with a population that is simultaneously growing and aging, enduring and increasing chronic health conditions and limited budgets, there's no doubt this lack of faith, on all sides, must be fixed.

Digital solutions - from wearable medical devices and connected medication dispensers, to video calls, messaging and portable electronic health records - are already allowing healthcare to move beyond the confines of the hospital to the home. This provides doctors with the means to collaborate more closely with their patients, share information and decision-making, build trust and improve our health.

Not only does this make sense from the point of view of more effective care, research indicates that there's also a more personal angle...

According to a recent study, if you trust your doctor, you're actually more likely to do better when you're sick. The study found that from three months following cancer diagnosis, those patients who did not trust their doctors were not only more distressed but more physically disabled.

So there you have it. Engagement and mutual trust, with some help from technology, is a perfect recipe for better health.

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