As we enter the third week of a UK-wide “lock down” in the battle against COVID-19 and struggle to adjust to the new constraints imposed on our daily lives, many of us will hanker after “the good old days” and long for a “return to normal.”
Yet, if we look at the present situation objectively, we are all acutely aware that life will never be quite the same again. As with all situations of adversity which have tested humanity to its limits throughout history, “necessity has been the mother of invention” with COVID-19. As painful, bewildering and traumatic as the past few weeks have been for businesses and society at large, one thing is clear: what we should really be hoping for is a return to ‘a new normal’—a world where we apply the many learnings of the current crisis and emerge stronger, like the phoenix from the flames.
Some of the issues in the spotlight include:
1. Technological adoption
For decades the National Health Service (NHS) has spoken about the need to embrace innovation and the power of IT. Yet despite numerous government initiatives, widespread adoption has been disappointingly slow and inconsistent.
COVID-19 has shown us that “where there is a will, there is a way,” and, in particular, just how rapidly new approaches, systems and technologies can be adopted when absolutely necessary.
Take the Primary Care environment as an example. Despite the advances in digital technology, NHS Digital figures from 2019 showed that less than one in every 100 of all GP appointments were carried out by online video consultation and nearly four in 10 people had no access to online consultations at all.
Now, a few weeks since the crisis began, England’s 7,000 GP surgeries are being forced to start conducting as many remote consultations as soon as possible, replacing patient visits with phone, video, online or text contact. Many patients will welcome this move, and, should this continue post the current pandemic, it may lead to improved patient experience, making lengthy delays to secure a face-to-face GP appointment a thing of the past. Furthermore, as GPs are the gateway to secondary care today, this may also open the door to more rapid referrals which can only be a good thing.
For communicators working with NHS suppliers and life and med tech companies, maintaining a strong corporate profile for their organisations during the COVID-19 crisis will be critical, both to aid technology adoption to tackle the crisis and ensure business success in the recovery phase. In addition, companies should analyse both competitor communication and consumer reaction to the crisis and to the initiatives being rolled out by companies so as to inform a “return to business” plan that enables them to come back stronger.
2. ‘More power in we than me’
One aspiration from the tragedy associated with COVID-19 is that it will unite all aspects of society, as we all join together in the fight against this silent killer. In the same way, it is creating opportunities for all aspects of the business community and academia to join forces and work together in new ways. Whilst competition law is very much still in force, the message from regulators is that this should not stand in the way of alleviating urgent situations relating to COVID-19.
From a communication perspective this opens up a host of opportunities for partnership working and best practice sharing. It is exciting to think what this could mean in a post COVID-19 world to see an explosion of new innovation and fresh thinking, which will ultimately benefit the healthcare system and wider society.
3. Removing the mental health stigma
Finally, there is no denying the “human” toll of COVID-19 as it relates to the healthcare workforce and society at large. The stress created by months of “social distancing” and “self-isolation” will inevitably leave a lasting mark on everyone, but for those directly engaged on the front-line the pressures will be immense. Many fear a secondary “mental health” pandemic will follow. Against this backdrop the role of highly skilled internal communication experts will be key.
But, if something positive is to emerge from this crisis, it is to be hoped that there may be a more widespread appreciation of what it means to experience mental health issues. This should create opportunities for those working to raise the profile of mental health issues and go some way to dispelling the traditional stigma still associated with these issues today.