There are many sources of health information available: the internet, word of mouth, community centers, government agencies. The most apparent source of information are doctors and medical centers. Historically, doctors and other healthcare workers have maintained a trusted and powerful position in our society. But what about those who do not view the healthcare system as trustworthy?
Disagreeing about vaccines
Americans like to make their own healthcare decisions. However, vaccinations are a healthcare decision that effects more than just the recipient. It is important for any eligible person to be vaccinated to reduce the risk of disease exposure among those who are medically unable to be vaccinated. This concept is called herd immunity.
When a population disagrees about vaccinations, the whole group is at risk. Herd immunity is vital in reducing the spread of disease and protecting those who can not protect themselves. Researchers examine the barriers to herd immunity by assessing parental trust in the healthcare system.
Researchers received the completed surveys of 1253 parents from 112 private and public elementary schools in Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington from 2002 to 2003. Children were either vaccinated or stated a non-medical exemption from vaccination. A non-medical exemption means that the parents got permission to send their non-vaccinated child to school from a source other than their doctor.
The survey measured trust in hospital and public health messaging. It also recorded their beliefs about complementary or alternative medicines (CAM). CAM are therapies that are not medically sound or supported by evidence.
Those who distrust the healthcare system were significantly more likely to believe and behave against the advice of doctors or other healthcare providers. Some not only believe that their vaccine information is unreliable, but that it goes against the best interest of their child. They are more likely to seek information about vaccinations from CAM providers than those who trust the healthcare system.
Trust as a barrier to safety
This study supports the theory that doctor distrust is a barrier to herd immunity. Those who distrust the healthcare system are more likely to believe and behave with disregard of their doctors vaccine recommendations. Addressing these beliefs is necessary to ensure herd immunity and protect those who are medically ineligible for vaccinations.