Survey Shows Americans Trust Their Doctors

Most in U.S. Don’t Feel They Need to Get a Second Opinion

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 03, 2010

Dec. 3, 2010 -- A majority of adult Americans trust their doctors and are confident in their advice, a new survey indicates.

The new Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey shows that 70% of Americans are confident in their doctor’s advice and don’t feel a need to seek out a second opinion or do additional research on their own.

That’s up from 64% of Americans who expressed such confidence in Gallup’s 2002 survey on the same subject.

The new research indicates that:

  • 85% of Americans over 65 are confident in their doctor’s advice.
  • 67% of those between 50 and 64 are confident, as are 65% of people under 50.

Education Levels and Confidence in Doctors

“While one might expect that interest in a second opinion and doing additional research would be higher among Americans with college degrees or post-graduate education, that is not the case,” says Frank Newport of Gallup, author of the report. “There is little difference in confidence in one’s doctor across the educational spectrum.”

Here’s how education affects confidence:

  • Among people who’ve done post-graduate work, 71% are confident in the accuracy of their doctor’s advice, with the remainder, 29%, feeling it’s necessary to do some research or additional checking.
  • 69% of college grads are confident their doctors are right, and 72% of people with some college feel the same way.
  • 70% of people with a high school education or less are confident in their doctor’s advice.

Newport writes that health web sites and other sources of health information have made it easier than in the past to seek additional medical information after receiving a diagnosis or getting recommendations from doctors.

And some insurance plans encourage or require second opinions before authorizing payment for procedures.

He says that news outlets increasingly focus on health conditions and many times question suggested remedies. For instance, the effectiveness of common procedures such as PSA tests and mammograms, and the importance of vitamin D, have come into question in recent years.

That would lead to a conclusion that the average American might want additional opinion and advice, but that’s not the case, according to the Gallup article.

Ethics of Doctors

In the organization’s annual survey of perceived honesty and ethics of various professions, doctors remain near the top, just as they did in 2002.

“All in all, these data suggest that doctors generally are in at least as good a position in their patients’ minds as they were eight years ago,” Newport writes. “This is despite anecdotal reports of doctors’ complaints about patients’ second-guessing their diagnoses and medical advice and spending hours on the Internet researching what they have been told.”

But Gallup’s honesty and ethics survey shows that Americans trust their nurses a little more than doctors. This separate survey says 81% of Americans give nurses a very high or high rating for honesty and ethical standards, compared to 66% for medical doctors.

Doctors also come in behind military officers, in whom 73% of people express confidence, druggists and pharmacists at 71%, and grade school teachers at 67%.

The Gallup survey on confidence in doctors is based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-7 with a random sample of 511 adults 18 and older. The survey on honest and ethics involved a random sample of 1,037 adults.