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Medical Community's Success Against COVID-19 Hinges on Trust
Gallup Blog

Medical Community's Success Against COVID-19 Hinges on Trust

by Joe Daly

Unlike other global crises, where we would typically expect financial bodies or the military to take the lead, we are relying on the global medical community -- including our own doctors and nurses -- to guide us through the current COVID-19 pandemic.

There are many important factors to consider in assessing the global medical community's ability to successfully do this, including its operational capability and decision-making structures and communication plans. But another essential element is whether citizens themselves trust these institutions.

Recently, at the annual Meridian Summit, I shared a number of Gallup insights into how people around the world perceive the medical community, based on research from Gallup's World Poll and the Wellcome Global Monitor.

(Video courtesy of the Meridian International Center)

Through its annual World Poll, Gallup has been tracking people's satisfaction with the availability of quality healthcare in more than 140 countries and areas for over a decade. Here's what we ask: "In the city or area where you live, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the availability of quality healthcare?"

We have asked this question everywhere, every year since 2007. The global average over that period shows decent positive progress, with our highest numbers in 2018 and 2019. If there is a positive here, it is that the medical community was on strong footing before the pandemic hit. We do not have a global number to share yet for 2020 because our global fieldwork has been slowed by COVID-19, and it is still taking place.

However, we were able to get a measurement completed this year in the U.S. We can see that the U.S. typically scores higher than the global average, which is not entirely surprising. The most interesting part of the U.S. trend is the nine-percentage-point increase from 2019 to 2020. This measure was taken in the March-May time frame this year and may reflect a rally effect among Americans who were in the midst of the first surge of the virus.

Line graph. Trend in global and U.S. satisfaction with the availability of quality healthcare where people live since 2007. There was a nine-point increase in U.S. satisfaction in 2020, with 83% of Americans satisfied.

The other relevant data come from the Wellcome Global Monitor, which partners with Gallup to ask important questions related to the medical and scientific community through the World Poll. There are three key questions that the Wellcome Global Monitor asks that help us understand whom the world trusts for their medical information:

  1. How much do you trust each of the following? Do you trust them a lot, some, not much or not at all? If you don't know, please just say so. How about doctors and nurses in this country?

  2. In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice from medical workers, such as doctors and nurses, in this country? A lot, some, not much or not at all? If you don't know, please just say so.

  3. In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice that the government of your country gives? A lot, some, not much or not at all? If you don't know, please just say so.

Overall, before the pandemic, people worldwide said they trust their nurses and doctors some or a lot, both generally and for medical advice. Americans were more confident than the global average on both of these measures. The same can't be said of their trust in the medical advice from the government, with 17% of Americans reporting a lot of trust.

This relatively lower level of trust is playing a significant role in how the U.S. federal government is able to lead through the global pandemic. It is also important to note that this measurement was taken in 2018, well before the COVID-19 pandemic. But it obviously serves as an important baseline.

Trust Medical and Health Advice From the Government of This Country
In general, how much do you trust medical and health advice that the government of (Country) gives? A lot, some, not much or not at all? If you don't know, please just say so.
A lot Some Not much Not at all Don't know/Refused
% % % % %
World 29 47 13 5 7
U.S. 17 42 19 10 12
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

Finally, and again thanks to the Wellcome Global Monitor, we have a pre-COVID-19 baseline on how the world feels about vaccines. Globally, 79% of adults worldwide believed vaccines are safe. The percentage of Americans who felt the same was slightly lower at 72%. These data were captured in 2018, so obviously they are unrelated to any current events surrounding COVID-19.

Gallup also began asking Americans whether they would take the COVID-19 vaccine if one were to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In the initial measurement in July 2020, 66% responded positively to the question. As of the latest measurement, in September 2020, the number has declined to 50%. With questions about the efficacy of a not-yet-available COVID-19 vaccine and the potential limited cooperation rates of the American people, there is considerable work to do before a vaccine could be considered a viable path to defeating this virus.

Author(s)

Joe Daly is a Senior Partner at Gallup.


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