Gone are the days when a medical degree and longevity in the health care industry equated to trust. Instead, brands from all industries are hearing the same demand from consumers: more transparency, please.

And with 55% of customers reporting they now trust companies less than they used to, it’s time for brands to listen.

Consumers want to spend their hard-earned money wisely – they want to know who they’re supporting and whether the organization operates with integrity – because these decisions directly impact their community, quality of life, and futures.

If we put the magnifying glass on health care, the stakes are even higher. Your key audiences are coming to you during some of the most challenging and vulnerable times of their lives. They’re making choices that put their health in your hands. Increasingly, they’re refusing to do so if that foundation of transparency and authenticity – which determines trust – isn’t there.

What caused this shift?

A lot of factors are at play, but we can point to the boom of social media and instant access to information as leading influences.

For better or worse, we’ve all become health care experts. We research our conditions, we listen to our friends and families, we check Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google … the list goes on. If your health care organization doesn’t show up during this research with transparent, relevant information, you’ve missed your shot. On to the next brand.

Transparency is easier said than done. It takes practice and experience to nail it, but for health care providers, there are a few key places to start.

Begin with employees

If you’re not transparent with your employees then you’re missing the critical first step.

Health care employees can be an organization’s greatest brand ambassadors as well as its harshest critics. If you don’t tell them what’s currently going on in the organization, if you don’t prep them for changes or potential challenges on the horizon, you’ll see employees shift from advocate to antagonist fairly quickly.

Your employees are the heart of your organization. When they feel included in decisions and are aware of changes before the impact is felt, their stake in the brand increases. That’s going to translate into patient care – as well as into how they represent your brand outside your walls – and before you know it, a culture of transparency has started to take shape.

Partner with patients

There was a time when the longer a doctor had been in business, the more trustworthy they were – and when a doctor made a decision about your health care, you followed orders, no questions asked.

This paternal relationship has been replaced. Patients know they aren’t experts in medicine, but they need to trust that their health care providers see them as partners in their care. A reasonable request.

Transparency plays a big role in building this type of trust. Being forthcoming about their options and what those mean, the cost of care, insurance information, access to care, how they interact with the organization, respecting their decisions, etc. – it’s all important.

Surprises erode trust. Transparency takes surprises out of the equation.

Practice transparent leadership

It’s hard to trust a disconnected “corporate voice” coming from the CEO’s office. Instead, get your leadership team out from behind the desk and put a face on your health care organization.

Organization leaders should be visible with employees and in the community, sharing updates about the company, building relationships, and soliciting ideas from the people they’re serving. Trust is earned through face time, listening, interacting, and being authentically engaged.

Keep in mind, this means sharing not just the good news, but also the tough updates. Be forthcoming about the challenges your health care organization is facing and what you’re doing to solve them. Even if you don’t have all the answers, simply sharing that your team is working on the best solutions for the community – and then following back up when those answers are available – is a step in the right direction.

Face the challenges

Transparency is vital, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Not everyone is going to agree with the decisions your organization makes and broadcasts. But while they may not like what you’re doing, if you’ve built a foundation of transparency and a commitment to the exchange of information, you’ll retain their respect.

A final word of advice: Before you shout your commitment to transparency, make sure you have the processes and resources in place to walk the talk. People will expect to be heard and responded to. If you’re claiming to be transparent and you can’t follow through, it’ll be hard to recover from that breach of trust.

For more insights on communication and brand strategy, industry trends and more, subscribe today to the Weekly Buzz here.