Trust in the medical profession: conceptual and measurement issues

Health Serv Res. 2002 Oct;37(5):1419-39. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.01070.


Objective: To develop and test a multi-item measure for general trust in physicians, in contrast with trust in a specific physician.

Data sources: Random national telephone survey of 502 adult subjects with a regular physician and source of payment.

Study design: Based on a multidimensional conceptual model, a large pool of candidate items was generated, tested, and revised using focus groups, expert reviewers, and pilot testing. The scale was analyzed for its factor structure, internal consistency, construct validity, and other psychometric properties.

Principal findings: The resulting 11-item scale measuring trust in physicians generally is consistent with most aspects of the conceptual model except that it does not include the dimension of confidentiality. This scale has a single-factor structure, good internal consistency (alpha = .89), and good response variability (range = 11-54; mean = 33.5; SD = 6.9). This scale is related to satisfaction with care, trust in one's physician, following doctors' recommendations, having no prior disputes with physicians, not having sought second opinions, and not having changed doctors. No association was found with race/ethnicity. While general trust and interpersonal trust are qualitatively similar, they are only moderately correlated with each other and general trust is substantially lower.

Conclusions: Emerging research on patients' trust has focused on interpersonal trust in a specific, known physician. Trust in physicians in general is also important and differs significantly from interpersonal physician trust. General physician trust potentially has a strong influence on important behaviors and attitudes, and on the formation of interpersonal physician trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Bias
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys / methods*
  • Health Care Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Random Allocation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Telephone
  • Trust*
  • United States