Health and Healthcare

Why trust in science and healthcare delivery is critical and how to get it

Without trust in science and healthcare, misinformation could grow.

Without trust in science and healthcare, misinformation could grow. Image: Unsplash/Matheus Ferrero

Nancy Brown
Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • When trust in science and healthcare is absent, misinformation can be deadly and compromise the credibility of those who form the healthcare system.
  • Reliable data will ensure better engagement with healthcare systems and access to information that will benefit lives.
  • Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform healthcare with speedier and more advanced healthcare delivery and solutions, but trustworthy facts and trust will be the cornerstones.

Trust is the foundational prerequisite for almost every meaningful endeavour. It forms the bedrock of relationships, fuels collaboration and sustains progress in all aspects of life.

Without trust, there is a void that can lead to danger, as that void is far too often filled with misinformation. And when it comes to public health, misinformation is not just detrimental; it can be deadly.

One example is the use of statins, a cholesterol-lowering medicine that can reduce heart attack and stroke risk in certain people. Many doctors say too many of their patients shun taking statins because of mixed responses from medical professionals and incorrect information on social media.

Stripping away the euphemism, what we call “misinformation” is far too often flat-out untruths. In the realm of science and research, these untruths range from distorted research findings to sensationalized health narratives. The more traction these untruths gain, the more they compromise the integrity of the entire healthcare system.

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Sum of professional parts

Misinformation is more than just a blow to public confidence in evidence-based practices, the gold standard for guidelines. It harms the credibility of the people involved in the process: scientists and researchers, clinicians and nurses.

A system compromised by misinformation poses a threat, and its potential for harm is heightened when designed to provide protection. For example, trust in healthcare providers and healthcare systems may be eroded if patients encounter conflicting or inaccurate information. This can lead to a breakdown in the patient-provider relationships and hinder effective communication and collaboration.

This potential undermining underscores the importance of involving everyone in promoting precise and reliable information, especially concerning health and well-being. That especially includes healthcare professionals, of course, but also policymakers, leaders of industry and patients. We need the help of everyone affected by the healthcare system, which is to say, everyone.

So, how can we build a healthcare landscape grounded in trust, reliability and the pursuit of better health outcomes for all?

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Truth seekers in health

Together, we can establish a network of knowledgeable people who make it their mission to debunk misinformation and promote trusted information to the public at large.

That is not to say that we should accept everything we’re told. After all, asking questions is the root of the scientific method. Done correctly, it’s how the field advances. Professionals find new solutions to old problems and new solutions to new problems.

When reliable information is abundant, lives can be improved and extended.

Promoting facts, fighting falsehoods, and fueling emerging technology with accurate information are the paths we must follow for a future of enhanced global health and well-being and equitable access to quality health services.

Nancy Brown, CEO, American Heart Association

Abundant benefits

Trustworthy facts are the basis for health education and awareness campaigns. When patients have access to evidence-based information, they’re more likely to make healthier lifestyle changes – for themselves, their loved ones and maybe even their entire community.

The speed of modern technology allows us to get answers faster and to distribute them both faster and farther. When that data is reliable, it leads to informed decision-making by the same constituencies: healthcare professionals and policymakers, industry leaders and patients. Once more, it provides advantages to all individuals whose lives are influenced by the healthcare system.

For instance, exchanging accurate data and evidence-based practices drives collaborative research and international partnerships crucial in combating global health challenges. Sharing reliable information is how difference-makers bond to create a unified front.

Game-changing technology

Put another way, everyone working from the same set of trustworthy facts gives us an unprecedented opportunity to improve global health. The next frontier in this area is harnessing big data and using artificial intelligence (AI).

For example, AI, particularly natural language programming algorithms, has been employed to analyze and understand vast amounts of textual data, including online content. This enables the identification of misinformation and the assessment of the context in which health-related information is presented.

At its best, AI can be a transformative tool for healthcare across the continuum including clinicians, payors, systems and patients who are receiving care. When fueled by accurate information, AI algorithms generate predictive analytics, more efficient disease management and – perhaps best of all – speed the arrival of personalized medicine.

Together, there’s the potential for a generational inflexion point in healthcare delivery. We could see improved patient outcomes and the overall efficiency and sustainability of entire systems.

Coming full circle

However, there’s a catch. It revolves around AI relying on accurate information, emphasizing that trustworthy facts must serve as a cornerstone for trust in science and healthcare.

Promoting facts, fighting falsehoods, and fueling emerging technology with accurate information are the paths we must follow for a future of enhanced global health and well-being and equitable access to quality health services.

Additionally, ethical considerations, user privacy and the responsible use of AI in healthcare is vital to ensure the health of all people.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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