Americans’ trust in the healthcare system has steadily declined over the past several decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this phenomenon. From fake news to COVID-19 deniers and vaccine misinformation, will it be possible to regain the trust that has been lost?

In yesterday’s plenary session, “Building Trust in a Time of Turmoil,” Dr. Thomas Lee described why we have lost our trust in the medical system, and what steps providers can take to begin to earn it back. “In addition to the general climate of trust in this country, we’ve got some really interesting challenges in healthcare, in particular because of the growing complexity of healthcare,” Lee said. “There are so many more people involved in the care of every patient. So many more things going on. So much data, and patients feel the chaos.”

One of the first steps to earn back trust is not to take it for granted that you should be trusted in the first place, Lee noted. “You have to build the trust across the whole episode of care,” he said. “Trust is a form of social capital. The way you build social capital is to constantly show that you deserve their trust.”

Giving patients peace of mind from the beginning of an encounter—even before they see a provider—and having a reputation as a very reliable organization are places to start to earn that capital, Lee said. The patient needs to have confidence that they will be treated fairly and not be harmed, regardless of their diagnosis or prognosis. “Empathy, coordination of care, and good communication are key factors in trust,” he added.

Transparency is also a key to earning a patient’s trust, and Lee emphasized that this is where the laboratory can play a key role. Making laboratory values available on a patient portal to reduce the time a patient is waiting for results is an example of the laboratory making the experience more patient-centered, which will help to build trust. Laboratorians can also work on better communication with patients to let them know how long certain tests take, like the results of a biopsy, so they don’t spend sleepless nights worrying. “Being patient-centered means really caring about what people are going through. You can make a difference in their life, and it will enrich your life.”