Trust in medical decision-making concerning older people: The views of key professionals in the Dutch health care practice

Josy Ubachs-Moust*, Rob Houtepen, Trudy Van der Weijden, Ruud Ter Meulen, Rein Vos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article deals with the issue of public trust in decisions made by individual physicians, concerning older people, as perceived by various key professionals. While trust is a basic element in our health care service, it is at the same time a difficult phenomenon to conceptualize. This article tries to contribute to a better understanding of what trust in medical practice entails and what are the necessary conditions for a society to put trust in the medical profession. The focus is on care for older people under the condition of scarcity in health care resources. Our study has a qualitative design consisting of semi-structured in-depth interviews with 24 key professionals focusing on decision-makers and those in line of professionally organizing or influencing the decision-making process. We found roughly three categories of trust: distrust; trust; and qualified trust. In each category we found different reasons to give or withhold trust and different views on how far the discretionary power of doctors should go. We recommend promoting trust by addressing the criteria or limits brought forward in the qualified trust category. The preconditions as identified in the qualified trust section provide the boundaries and marking points between which physicians have to move regarding the care for older people. The qualifications provide us insight in where and how to invest in trust under these and under different circumstances. An important conclusion is that trust is never finished: trust needs to be gained and negotiated in a continuous process of action and interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-584
JournalHealth: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • decision-making
  • discretionary power
  • older people
  • professional freedom
  • public trust


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