The European Union's impact on a trusted healthcare system

Trust is at the centre of a doctor-patient relationship: trust in the practitioner’s capabilities but also trusting that the patient will follow the famed ‘doctor’s orders’. In a world reeling due to a destructive pandemic which has lead to healthcare workers taking on a heroic image, surely the level of trust must have increased and is unanimous amongst physicians and patients globally…

Is trust in doctors high?

Yes, research shows that trust in healthcare workers was very high and remained so in the pandemic[1]. However, an anecdotal dive into social media comment sections is enough to seriously challenge this idea; with many individuals placing very little faith in doctors, sharing numerous conspiracy theories and promoting alternative/borderline dangerous suggestions or points of care.

Where do such viewpoints arise from?

Hesitancy and mistrust in doctors stem from a number of factors, namely negative past experience, but also due to broader influences which may be misconstrued as being confounding. A common example of such influences is the political context which is affecting a country’s healthcare system[2], say by supranational institutions such as the European Union. ‘The EU wants our money… we have lost our sovereignty and independence… they are interfering with our healthcare…’ - common gripes amongst the ill-informed.

This, of course, cannot be further from the truth. The European Union has formed the European Health Union (EHU) in order to draw lessons from the Covid-19 crisis: to repair and prepare for the future. Pandemics and illness know no border, therefore unilateral action by countries would reap very few benefits compared to a strong EHU with 27 member states’ as its foundation. Through the EHU, the EU wishes to achieve a number of goals[3].

What will the European Health Union do?

  1. Coordinating efforts at a European level will mitigate problems caused by closing of borders, which hampered peoples freedom of movement and trade.
  2. Misinformation on health issues will be tackled in order to reduce scepticism on health measures.
  3. In addition, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), will be able to deliver hands-on support to member states and provide recommended health measures (not direct orders), tailored to the specific needs of the state.
  4. Shortages of medicinal products and medical devices and facilitation of new treatments will be addressed through the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as well as authorisation of vaccines.

As can be seen, these objectives have member states’ autonomy at their forefront, whilst bringing with them advantages which only such a union can offer. In particular, point 2 should work wonders for maintaining the high level of trust which the healthcare industry enjoys; this is crucial in any era, especially our current times. 

What are the implications of a reduced sense of trust in the health sector, particularly in doctors?

There is tangible evidence which points to a strong correlation between patient satisfaction and trust in their doctor, but perhaps surprisingly, also moderate correlation between trust and health outcome. In other words, the more trust is placed in the doctor, the more likely it is for the patient’s prognosis to be favourable[4]. It is therefore clearly in our best interest as European citizens to praise and look forward to similar initiatives such as the EHU, for a better Malta now and in future.