How do you measure trust in the health system? A systematic review of the literature

Soc Sci Med. 2013 Aug:91:10-4. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.05.005. Epub 2013 May 14.


People's trust in the health system plays a role in explaining one's access to and utilization of medical care, adherence to medications, continuity of care, and even self-reported health status. Yet it is not easy to find trust measures and understand what they are measuring. A systematic review of scales and indices identified 45 measures of trust within the health system with an average of 12 questions each, which quantified levels of trust among various relationships across the health system. Existing evidence was narrow in scope, where half examined the relationship between doctors/nurses and patients, and the majority were designed, tested and validated in the United States. We developed a health systems trust content area framework, where we identified that honesty, communication, confidence and competence were captured frequently in these measures, with less focus on concepts such as fidelity, system trust, confidentiality and fairness. Half of the measures employed a qualitative method in the design of these measures and 33% were pilot tested. Reporting of test-retest reliability and inter-rater reliability were less common. This review identifies a need to develop measurements of trust beyond doctor-patient relationships and outside of U.S. contexts, and strengthen the rigor of existing trust measures. Greater development and use of trust measures in the health system could improve monitoring and evaluation efforts, which may in turn result in better health outcomes.

Keywords: Confidence; Health system; Measure; Scale; Systematic review; Trust.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Humans
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Trust*