Trust in the Medical Profession: Conceptual and Measurement Issues


  • Mark A Hall,

  • Fabian Camacho,

  • Elizabeth Dugan,

  • Rajesh Balkrishnan

  • This work was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, under its Patient–Provider Relationship Initiative. Surveys were conducted by Dr. Robert Oldendick and the staff of the Survey Research Laboratory at the University of South Carolina.

Address correspondence to Mark A. Hall, J.D., Department of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1063. Fabian Camacho, M.S., and Rajesh Balkrishnan, Ph.D., are with the Department of Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine as well. Elizabeth Dugan, Ph.D., is with the Institute for Studies on Aging, New England Research Institutes, Watertown, MA.


Objective. To develop and test a multi-item measure for general trust in physicians, in contrast with trust in a specific physician.

Data Sources. Random national telephone survey of 502 adult subjects with a regular physician and source of payment.

Study Design. Based on a multidimensional conceptual model, a large pool of candidate items was generated, tested, and revised using focus groups, expert reviewers, and pilot testing. The scale was analyzed for its factor structure, internal consistency, construct validity, and other psychometric properties.

Principal Findings. The resulting 11-item scale measuring trust in physicians generally is consistent with most aspects of the conceptual model except that it does not include the dimension of confidentiality. This scale has a single-factor structure, good internal consistency (alpha=.89), and good response variability (range=11–54; mean=33.5; SD=6.9). This scale is related to satisfaction with care, trust in one's physician, following doctors' recommendations, having no prior disputes with physicians, not having sought second opinions, and not having changed doctors. No association was found with race/ethnicity. While general trust and interpersonal trust are qualitatively similar, they are only moderately correlated with each other and general trust is substantially lower.

Conclusions. Emerging research on patients' trust has focused on interpersonal trust in a specific, known physician. Trust in physicians in general is also important and differs significantly from interpersonal physician trust. General physician trust potentially has a strong influence on important behaviors and attitudes, and on the formation of interpersonal physician trust.