The role of gender in patient-provider trust for tuberculosis treatment

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Background: In South Africa, tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death, and Cape Town is among the three cities in the country with the highest TB burden. Despite implementation of Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course (DOTS), and improvements in the organisation and delivery of TB care, poor treatment adherence challenges treatment outcomes and the health system's ability to reach international targets. TB requires long-term care, where the relationship with healthcare providers is one of the important influences on decisions to seek care and adhere to treatment. This study sought to explore and deepen insight into how trust is built and experienced between patients and healthcare providers for TB treatment in primary care settings from a gender perspective. Methods: The research was located in three local government-managed clinics in the City of Cape Town's Metropole health district, similar in TB patient load and performance indicators, but differing in level of TB-HIV integrated services. A case study design employing qualitative data collection approaches (non-participant observations in clinics, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with patients and providers) was applied. Findings: Trust plays a central role for both patients and providers in treatment for TB. On the part of patients, many expressed a deep desire and motivation to complete their treatment. However, patient vulnerability, a complex outcome of intersecting factors at all levels (personal, community and health service level), across which gender was an underlying influence, emerged as a critical influence over patient trust in providers and the health system, with consequences for a range of outcomes including treatment adherence. The ability of providers and the health system as an institution to recognise and respond to patient vulnerability and needs beyond the illness, including to access socio-economic and psycho-social support for the patient, was critical for building trust and enabling adherence. On the part of healthcare providers, vulnerability was a consequence of a range of factors, including professional status and gender, with implications for how trust was built in patients and managers and its outcomes. Patient trustworthiness was based on judgements of competency, integrity and recognition. The ability of managers to mitigate the challenges healthcare providers faced, through providing a supportive and enabling work environment, had implications for providers' experiences and judgements of institutional trustworthiness. Conclusion: Reflecting on the findings within broader national, provincial and global health policy reforms, specific strategies for building patient and provider trust in each other, and in the health system, are proposed. Recommended strategies addressing both patient and provider vulnerabilities rooted in the personal, community and health facility environment are considered. While many of the recommendations are specific to the TB and TB/HIV model of care, they have wider relevance for building mutual trust between patients and providers and enhancing the responsiveness of the health system as a whole. This is important in the context of South Africa, where the vision espoused under proposed National Health Insurance reforms towards universal coverage is transformative, even revolutionary, but its implementation and ultimate achievements are likely to be dogged by challenges of patient and provider trust in the health system, unless themselves addressed. Globally, the study's conclusions also offer important insights about patient-provider trust relevant to health system development, as well as ideas for future, related research.