Nancy Anderson, R.N.

While the pandemic ripped its way across the world, another disease spread rampantly throughout our country: A virus of misinformation and disinformation — causing a widespread erosion of trust. We’re now seeing the consequences.

For the last 20 years, Edelman, a global communications firm, has conducted research on the state of trust in various types of institutions — business, government, media, and non-governmental organizations. The 2021 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer was quite sobering, perhaps understandable given we are coming out of a year like no other.

The study sheds light on the pandemic’s impact on trust and the impact that conflicting information sources have had on vaccine acceptance. This “info-demic” has caused suspicion and hesitancy about the COVID-19 vaccines, which further threatens pandemic recovery and economic revival.   

But there is hope!

While the Trust Barometer indicates that trust substantially decreased in all institutions between May 2020 and January 2021, there is an interesting shift that we need to pay attention to: While government once held the top spot on the trust index, it has been replaced by business now becoming the most trusted institution. The highest source of trusted information comes from “my employer.” And, as compared to last year’s study, the importance placed on regular employee communication increased by 44 points.

So what does this mean for long-term care providers? How do we build trust and confidence among employees? 

The most effective means to overcome vaccine hesitancy is through persistent, consistent and steady communication from credible sources. People often get misinformed through inaccurate stories on social media, so healthcare leaders need to actively and assertively use social media to get truthful stories out to people — essentially permeating the social media space with accurate information.

Additionally, senior care leaders are seeing success with the following approaches:

  • Repeated, evidence-based education using multiple communication platforms — from town hall meetings to call-in education programs to text messaging.
  • Use bite-size pieces of information so that people can quickly and easily consume and understand the information.
  • Messages should be delivered by trusted sources who speak authoritatively, but with easily understandable terminology, avoiding acronyms, jargon and highly technical terms. 
  • Create a human connection by using collegial, informal small group settings with employees.

Hygiene practices should extend beyond washing our hands and wearing a mask. The onus is on business leaders to rigorously practice good information hygiene, returning facts to their rightful place, to ensure that trust is restored and reinforced. The most important trust-building action right now is ensuring quality information is communicated to employees.

Taking a deliberate approach to information hygiene plays an important role in establishing trust and loyalty, not just in a crisis, but well beyond. 

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is senior vice president of engagement solutions for Align. She provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.