Domino Players

The Powerful Combination of Information and Trust

We are learning the hard way that information alone does not persuade people in matters of health. This is because trust is essential. Mistrust of public health messages about COVID-19 is killing people. A new study in Annals of Internal Medicine tells us how potent the combination of information and trust can be. It is an RCT of public health messages from doctors.

The study showed these messages can help people understand COVID-19 and how to prevent it. But for Black individuals, the messages were more potent if they came from Black doctors.

Simple Messages, Different Messengers

For this study, a team of economists and physicians developed three video messages about COVID-19. They varied the race and ethnicity of the doctors in the videos. By random assignment, subjects might or might not see a video of a doctor who matched their own racial and ethnic identity.

One of the videos featured Deborah Birx delivering the messages. We note that Black subjects didn’t spend much time listening to Dr. Birx. However, every one of these videos did help to close knowledge gaps about COVID. And when they conveyed information about positive perceptions of mask wearing in the community, attitudes about masks shifted.

Perhaps the most interesting finding, though, was that when Black respondents got their information from a Black physician, their interest in learning more went up. One of the study authors, Fatima Cody Stanford, explains:

“The study demonstrates that persons of color – particularly in the Black community in the U.S. – are receptive to messages delivered by physicians ‘who look like me.’ So we should work to make sure our workforce includes more doctors from under-represented backgrounds. Doing so, we are able to work at reducing the widespread disparities in the lives of Black and Brown communities.”

Trust, Mistrust, and Misinformation

This has been a year of learning about trust, mistrust, and misinformation. Mistrust of the other is a disturbing, but very real, human response. Our political climate has been stoking such mistrust and it has hurt us in this pandemic. In some areas, patients may deny the reality of COVID-19 all the way until they die. Mistrust has real consequences.

But “tsk, tsk” is a lousy response. The real response is empathy and inclusion. A diverse healthcare workforce is essential for delivering care that patients will trust and information they will take to heart. Information and trust are a powerful combination when both are sound.

Click here for the study and here for the editorial that goes with it. For further reporting, click here.

Domino Players, painting by Horace Pippin / WikiArt

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December 22, 2020

One Response to “The Powerful Combination of Information and Trust”

  1. December 22, 2020 at 8:03 am, David Brown said:

    In personal and political decision making, there is a chain of trust. The shorter the chain, the less chance of a weak link. The shortest chain is illustrated by this Thomas Jefferson quote: “enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body & mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

    Ideally, it would be great if the citizenry could trust politicians and the experts who advise to figure out how the real World works and decide courses of action accordingly. Unfortunately, there are schools of thought (competing ideologies) representing unresolved controversies. All too often, neither side is in touch with reality enough to determine the truth of a matter. A case in point is this fast-acting pandemic that is obviously imposed upon a slow-acting obesity/chronic inflammatory disease pandemic, the cause of which has yet to be identified.