Information and access to health care: is there a role for trust?

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Oct;61(7):1452-62. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.11.076.


In many countries health policy has been guided by a focus on the supply side factors of access to health care, a lot of attention being directed at the availability of services. This paper concentrates on the demand side of access and investigates relational factors that may limit people's subjective choice sets or their freedom to utilise health services, emphasising that relations between service providers and individuals are based on an interchange of information. It develops an argument for health communication strategies based on an interactive exchange of information as a means of improving access and is intended as a conceptual basis for further debate. Trust assumes a key position within this transactional process of information exchange or communicative interaction. Information may enlarge individual choice sets and increase the freedom to use health care; it serves as a stimulus for access. The paper argues that trust plays a role in the utilisation of provided information. Trust emerges as a prerequisite of the effectiveness of information with regard to access. A discussion of the origins of trust shows that, while trust enhances communicative interaction, it is the process of communicative interaction that generates trust in the first place. Culturally diverse societies are often low-trust environments. The paper analyses the driving forces of trust and distrust in health care within these societies and delineates barriers for the individual and the community to the transfer of information. Specific characteristics of health communication turn out to be key determinants of access. In conclusion, principles for health policy on equity and information are derived which are rooted in a distinctive notion of democratic societal structure.

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Medical Informatics
  • South Africa
  • Trust / psychology*