The European Union’s impact on a trusted healthcare system

In collaboration with the Malta Medical Students’ Association (MMSA)

Trust is at the centre of a doctor-patient relationship: trust in the practitioner’s capabilities
but also trusting that the patient will follow the famed ‘doctor’s orders’. In a world reeling
due to a destructive pandemic which has lead to healthcare workers taking on a heroic
image, surely the level of trust must have increased and is unanimous amongst physicians
and patients globally…

Is trust in doctors high?

Yes, research shows that trust in healthcare workers was very high and remained so in the
pandemic1. However, an anecdotal dive into social media comment sections is enough to
seriously challenge this idea; with many individuals placing very little faith in doctors,
sharing numerous conspiracy theories and promoting alternative/borderline dangerous
suggestions or points of care.

Where do such viewpoints arise from?

Hesitancy and mistrust in doctors stem from a number of factors, namely negative past
experience, but also due to broader influences which may be misconstrued as being
confounding. A common example of such influences is the political context which is
affecting a country’s healthcare system2, say by supranational institutions such as the
European Union. ‘The EU wants our money… we have lost our sovereignty and
independence… they are interfering with our healthcare…’ – common gripes amongst the
ill-informed.
This, of course, cannot be further from the truth. The European Union has formed the
European Health Union (EHU) in order to draw lessons from the Covid-19 crisis: to repair
and prepare for the future. Pandemics and illness know no border, therefore unilateral
action by countries would reap very few benefits compared to a strong EHU with 27
member states’ as its foundation. Through the EHU, the EU wishes to achieve a number of
goals3.

What will the European Health Union do?

  1. Coordinating efforts at a European level will mitigate problems caused by closing of
    borders, which hampered people’s freedom of movement and trade.
  2. Misinformation on health issues will be tackled in order to reduce scepticism on health measures.
  3. In addition, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), will be
    able to deliver hands-on support to member states and provide recommended health
    measures (not direct orders), tailored to the specific needs of the state.
  4. Shortages of medicinal products and medical devices and facilitation of new treatments
    will be addressed through the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as well as
    authorisation of vaccines.

As can be seen, these objectives have member states’ autonomy at their forefront, whilst
bringing with them advantages which only such a union can offer. In particular, point 2
should work wonders for maintaining the high level of trust which the healthcare industry
enjoys; this is crucial in any era, especially our current times.

What are the implications of a reduced sense of trust in the health sector, particularly in
doctors?

There is tangible evidence which points to a strong correlation between patient satisfaction
and trust in their doctor, but perhaps surprisingly, also moderate correlation between trust
and health outcome. In other words, the more trust is placed in the doctor, the more likely
it is for the patient’s prognosis to be favourable4. It is therefore clearly in our best interest
as European citizens to praise and look forward to similar initiatives such as the EHU, for a
better Malta now and in future.

Footnotes:

1 https://voxeu.org/article/trust-and-compliance-public-health-policies-time-covid-19

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3906279/pdf/hvi-9-1763.pdf

3 https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/promoting-our-european-way-life/european-healthunion_en

4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295692/pdf/pone.0170988.pdf

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