Background: Incidents in health care happen every now and then. Incidents are often extensively covered by the news media. In this study, we investigated the impact of an incident in a Dutch hospital on public trust in health care in the population living in the vicinity of where the incident took place and in the national population. News media coverage of the incident started in Fall 2008.
Methods: We collected data in three samples, using a postal questionnaire on public trust in health care. Two samples were a cross-section of the Dutch population; one was questioned in October 2006 and the other in October 2008. The third sample, also questioned in October 2008, consisted of 1000 people living in the surrounding area of the hospital where the incident occurred. The cross-sectional sample of October 2006 was a reference group, and at that time no incidents in health care were covered in the media.
Results: In the local population, the incident had a strong impact on public trust in the hospital and among the specialists working there. Also, in the local population, the impact of the incident was generalized to trust in hospitals and specialists in general. In the national population, no impact of the incident on the public's trust was found, despite national news media coverage.
Conclusion: Local incidents have an impact on public trust in health care in the local population. However, these incidents do not influence public trust in health care in the national population.