Trust in American Clinical Care

Trends / Wellness
Tom Werner
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Jun 9, 2022
Trust in the American healthcare system is at an all‑time low.1 Considering the lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for causing the opioid epidemic,2  the scandalous mismanagement and burnout amongst healthcare workers before and during the Covid‑19 pandemic,3 and the fundamental reality that healthcare is a for‑profit industry with coverage linked to employment status, rather than an equitable public service,4 it makes sense that 7 in 10 Americans across party lines now favor a public health insurance option.5 In the meantime, visualizing clinical healthcare in a way that will inspire public trust remains a challenge.

Traditionally, popular visuals of clinical healthcare have felt, well, clinical—often full of alienating blue or white tones which, while intended to show concepts like cleanliness and innovation, are lacking the warm color palettes that our VisualGPS image testing confirms consumers prefer to see. What’s more, there is now a widespread understanding that mental health, lifestyle choices, socioeconomic determinants, and environmental factors have the largest impact on overall health; in fact, it is estimated that only around 20% of one’s overall health is impacted by clinical healthcare.6  So, visuals picturing contemporary clinical care will need to take these new values into account.
Make medical care feel personal
At Getty Images, customer searches for “doctor and patient” increased +56% last year. The impulse to make healthcare appear more personal is well‑founded—a study by NORC found that while just 1 in 3 Americans trust for‑profit pharmaceutical and insurance companies, 85% hold the direct services they receive from doctors and nurses in high esteem.7 Our VisualGPS image testing uncovered the further insight that consumers prefer visuals which make them feel empowered to participate in their own healthcare, portraying the doctor‑patient relationship as collaborative, with mutual understanding and eye contact, if possible. So, when choosing visuals across a range of medical settings, whether in a hospital, doctor’s office, long‑term facility, or even in‑home healthcare, there is an opportunity to emphasize the personal bond that can form between a caregiver and patient, rather than strictly focusing on the transactional aspects of medication or other forms of care.
Consider who is providing care—and who is receiving it
Unsurprisingly, the disparities in who has access to healthcare in the US carry over into who harbors the most distrust. Much has been said about the political divide over vaccinations, but Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that race and income level are the most likely determinants of trust in the healthcare system, with just 55% of low‑income earners likely to trust it compared to 71% of high‑income earners, and just 55% of Black Americans compared to 62% of white Americans.8

We know that our healthcare customers are focused on inclusion: “Health equity” and “Black doctor” are rising search terms, and 3 in 5 doctors in popular visuals are now people of color. But there are other nuances to consider, too. For example, women of all races appear as doctors 1.5x more than men, and while that is good for professional women, it also creates the impression that care is gendered work—even though VisualGPS image testing found that men are most responsive to visuals which portray them as sensitive caregivers. Additionally, seniors are the age group most likely to be shown as receivers of healthcare, but visuals don't need to emphasize their helplessness or dependence in order to communicate care as a concept. People with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender patients, tend to be underrepresented in healthcare visuals, as well. It’s important to portray all identity groups, especially those who have historically been left behind by the healthcare system, as active participants in their own healthcare.
Show how technology facilitates human‑to‑human care
Our latest VisualGPS research reveals that 3 in 4 Americans are excited about the impact of technology on wellness, even more than virtual reality. The initial explosion of search interest in “telemedicine” at the beginning of the pandemic may have tapered off, but this blessing for rural communities, working parents, and people with disabilities is here to stay: visuals showing telemedicine are still just as popular at Getty Images as they were in 2020. Telemedicine and other new medical technologies offer many things to consumers aside from innovation alone: convenience, self‑empowerment, or extended access to human‑to‑human care, for example. When it comes to technology in general, VisualGPS found that 81% of Americans appreciate how it helps them stay connected to others, compared to 65% who say technology has solved problems for them. So to emphasize what consumers value most about the technology being shown, from MRI machines to X‑rays, it’s important to choose visuals which emphasize the human touch and connection at the core of this type of care in order to inspire maximum trust.
Destination: Wellness