Measuring physicians' trust: A scoping review with implications for public policy

Soc Sci Med. 2016 Sep:165:75-81. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.039. Epub 2016 Jul 29.


Increasingly, physicians are expected to work in productive, trusting relationships with other health system stakeholders to improve patient and system outcomes. A better understanding of physicians' trust is greatly needed. This study assesses the state of the literature on physicians' trust in patients, other health care providers, institutions, and data systems or technology, and identifies key themes, dimensions of trust considered, quantitative measures used, and opportunities for further development via a scoping review. Peer-reviewed, English-language research articles were identified for inclusion in this study based on systematic searches of the Ovid/Medline, Pubmed, Proquest, Scopus, Elsevier, and Web of Science databases. Search terms included "trust" along with "physician," "doctor," "primary care provider," "family practitioner," "family practice," "generalist," "general practitioner," "general practice," "internist," "internal medicine," or "health professional," and plausible variants. Among the relevant articles identified (n = 446), the vast majority focused on patient trust in physicians (81.2%). Among articles examining physicians' trust, rigorous investigations of trust are rare, narrowly focused, and imprecise in their discussion of trust. Robust investigations of the effects of trust or distrust-as opposed to trust's determinants-and studies using validated quantitative trust measures are particularly rare. Studies typically measured trust using the language of confidence, effective communication, or cooperation, rarely or never capturing other important dimensions of trust, such as fidelity, the trustee's reputation, social capital, vulnerability, and acceptance. Research employing new, validated measures of physicians' trust, especially trust in institutions, may be highly informative to health system leaders and policymakers seeking to hone and enhance tools for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the health care system.

Keywords: Patient-physician relationship; Physicians; Trust.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Public Policy / trends*
  • Trust / psychology*