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Insight: From hero to heard, McCann Health’s ‘Truth About Doctors’ study tracks the impact of COVID-19 on physicians & what they want

NEW YORK CITY, USA – The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined what it means and what it takes to be a healthcare provider in a time of crisis. In a new study from McCann Health, the data from the original 2016 Truth About Doctors study has been re-examined and updated, highlighting the need to focus on prioritizing the health and wellbeing of physicians to ultimately help foster a healthier public.

What emerged are some key tensions: though health care providers have experienced a resurgence of gratitude, heralded as healthcare heroes and applauded nightly, their sense of achievement has decreased in being a doctor, treating patients, being a part of the healthcare system, and in themselves. When it comes to treating patients, physicians’ fear has doubled since 2016 from 12% to 24%, and joy in their profession has dropped from 35% to 21%. Regular exposure to unyielding death and suffering alongside public idolization fueled cognitive dissonance, driving many to question their ability to make an impact.

While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the ongoing global trust recession, with 51% of people reporting that they have lost trust in government and politicians and 37% feeling similarly about mainstream media and social media, 41% of people globally report that their doctor has been among their most trusted resource throughout the pandemic.


Physicians’ sense of dutifulness has increased from 43% in 2016 to 62% 2020, renewing their sense of purpose, but they question how long that will last and how sustainable the current situation really is. The data reflects a heightened need for stability, up from 15% to 50% in 2020, driven by shortages of PPE and systemic failures that have left healthcare workers vulnerable on the frontlines all over the world.

Using McCann Health’s proprietary Empathy Engine™ tool, which uses natural language processing (NLP) to uncover implicit drivers of behavior, the original findings were evaluated to ascertain changes in attitudes, opinions and behaviors on the part of both consumers and doctors since 2016. These new tools tracked trends over time, pointing at new ways to engage and support health care providers.

“The data revealed the scale and scope of the emotional impact of COVID-19 for doctors,” said Daryl Somma, EVP, Executive Strategy Director, McCann Health New York. “Though that impact is profound, what also emerged were some silver linings, including the primacy of science and reinstatement of doctors as figures of authority.”

“In 2016 we uncovered that doctors were being relegated due to the democratization of information – people thought they could be a doctor with very little training and that the internet had all of the answers they needed,” said Hilary Gentile, global chief strategy officer, McCann Health and one of the study’s authors. “But what we’ve all realized in the past year is that doctors, as our pandemic compasses, are in command of crucial knowledge and counsel that goes far beyond what can simply be found online. More than ever, they are being viewed as indispensable, yet stuck in an unsustainable system.”

“Doctoring was on an alarming trajectory. In addition to bringing trauma, uncertainty and crisis, COVID-19 has also created a window of opportunity to rethink and reset that trajectory,” said John Cahill, Global CEO, McCann Health. “By identifying the trends over time, we can map a way forward for more meaningful engagement with our health care providers.”

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