Moving from Indifference: Health Lessons for 2021
2020 is in the rearview mirror, and for most of us that is a very good thing. Despite the rough start to 2021, there seems to be optimism and hope that the world will become a better place. One day soon, we hope to leave behind many of the life-altering events of 2020 — including losing loved ones, profound isolation, the need for so many to work from home and the elimination of travel for most people.
Although it is a natural desire to put it all behind us, it is also important to stop and reflect on some of the lessons we learned, bringing this new awareness into 2021 and beyond. The healthcare industry, for example, is at the center of COVID-19 — an industry that, prior to COVID-19, was viewed by most of the world with skepticism and indifference. Yet, amid this crisis, governments and their citizens look to the healthcare industry for help, heroes and hope. In many ways, this industry is delivering in significant ways never seen — or certainly not recognized — before.
Will the industry hold on to this positive shift in perception, or will the progress gained revert to pre-COVID-19 status once we put it behind us? If healthcare professionals, companies and brands carry forward the positive impact the industry made in 2020, applying lessons learned and new ways of working, the entire industry could benefit in the long term from a needed reputational lift. It could be recognized as one of the most innovative and impactful sectors in the world. Here are some learnings we should never forget:
Prioritize public health
Countries may have thought they were ready, but most were not. COVID-19 has shown us how vulnerable we really are. We all learned the hard way that public health impacts each one of us, though it is often viewed as an area of science most needed in the developing world. This area is sorely underfunded in many countries, impacting the ability to respond, provide coordinated outreach, guidance, education, decision-making and care. The consequences can be deadly. If we don’t take stock of what we learned, fixing our approach to prioritizing and funding public health efforts, we will likely relive 2020 all over again. We need to be truthful about preparedness requirements and work hard to get ready. Experts predict another pandemic will come our way — the question is not if, but when.
Protect frontline healthcare workers
We have seen firsthand the heroic role of frontline healthcare workers. Without them, the delivery of care is not possible. They are carrying an enormous burden, beyond those of us who are trying to safely live a “quarantine life.” They are experiencing extreme levels of stress, burn out and PTSD. Collectively and individually, we need to protect, support and recognize these heroes at all costs.
Press for health equity
We learned that some people are more vulnerable than others, suffering disproportionally due to COVID-19, including many people from racial and ethnic minority groups. We were reminded that not everyone has equal access to good healthcare. The reasons are vast, including discrimination, occupation, education, income and housing. We need to realize we are only as strong as our most vulnerable populations and be conscientious of these issues. We need to use our knowledge and skills in the industry to remove barriers to take better care of each other.
Globally, COVID-19 has united us in unexpected ways. We have learned how wearing masks, social distancing and quarantining helps protect our fellow humans. We also have learned that the solution to COVID-19 is not coming from one person, one company or one government. It is through the practice of partnership, trust, collaboration and sharing that we have solutions in front of us. We’re shown what is possible by truly prioritizing what’s best for humanity in ways such as journals providing free access to studies and data; bio or pharma companies putting their competitive interests aside to work together, accelerating research and development; and regulatory agencies moving mountains to expedite review and authorization of COVID-19 diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines. We should not need a pandemic to ignite solidarity. Imagine what we could accomplish if we worked this way every day.
Although there is so much tragedy associated with COVID-19, if we look hard, there are also meaningful and important takeaways. The healthcare industry has long had an image problem, being viewed as faceless, nameless and soulless. Today, the entire world is watching, and the opportunity exists to be recognized among the heroes saving lives and moving the world forward. This is the industry’s opportunity to earn a long-term reputational shift — away from one of indifference — to one of value and recognition that the healthcare industry is making a meaningful difference. Has your view of the health care industry changed for the better over the past year? How can you make sure it doesn’t slide backwards?