2020 has delivered certainty to us all about health. We now know that it is an existential asset not only for individuals but for business and society as a whole.
We have witnessed how COVID-19 sparked a global crisis that spawned massive collateral damage. From the contagion itself but also follow-on food insecurity, job loss, education interruption, cancelled community health interventions, stunted biomedical research, delayed diagnosis and therapy, political upheaval, and worldwide economic strife.
Now, as vaccination makes working, playing and loving without wearing a mask a realistic prediction for 2021, leaders of all ilk need to make operating as the one humanity we are a new status quo.
A Health Care Industry Breakthrough
Under our masks, those of us who’ve built careers in and around health care crack hopeful smiles.
At long last, in the actions of frontline health professionals, brilliant biopharma moves, and tech-charged health care innovations, the world sees the industry’s immense talent, passion and importance. Yet a busy and troubled world quickly can forget goodness and lose trust. We must continue and sustain new relationships and ways of working while fortune smiles on us.
Caring for Health is for Every Industry
“First Pandemic in a Century!” Headline-worthy, for sure. But that distinction drastically underplays the significance of what happened over the past year. This is the only pandemic ever to occur at a time when we had the scientific know-how to prevent its ruthless, seemingly random sniper strikes on individuals. Yet it systematically destroyed the lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable populations among us, whether due to age, race, finances, health status and/or access to healthcare.
Truth is, in the century since the 1918-19 flu pandemic, public health knowledge has flourished, spawning brilliant epidemiology, sociomedical science, health policy strategy and life-course healthcare models. This holistic understanding of what makes–or breaks–health resilience have rendered the social, behavioral, genetic and environmental determinants of health well understood.
Add to that strong clinical co-specialization and collaboration, and we know that the great pharmaceutical R&D and clinical innovation will not be enough to secure human health. A list of other primary health factors reads like a list of industries and institutions: of course technology, but also food, energy, education, architecture, engineering, entertainment, transportation, human resources. For each, health is both a great business growth opportunity and a central ethical responsibility.
Every Person Can Influence Health, and Leaders have Exponential Power for Good
Even those of us who have built careers focused on advancing human health and well-being have been humbled by the immense power that individual citizens have to protect or harm the lives of others. This year, the potential to be an inadvertent vector has been made scarily real. People of influence, by dint of their roles in their workplaces, communities, schools, and yes, especially, nations, have a disproportionate influence on public health. And healthcare professionals even more so.
Yet, the converse is also true. You stay socially distanced; others stay socially distanced. You say something is important, others act accordingly. You wear a mask, other follow suit. You advocate for vaccination; others line up to get their families vaccinated. And if you work in healthcare, you have the trifecta of health influence – personal, professional and public.
Leaders’ organic influence on health is not new. It has massive influence over the actions of those who look up to you, follow your example, abide by your “policies”—on everything from food, exercise and nutrition; to dental check-ups, medical screenings and science acceptance; to your concern for the well-being of people far away from you in location, beliefs or ways of living.
Leaders Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict What Happens in Health 2021. They Need to Lead with the Understanding that Health is an Existential, Vulnerable Asset to Both Protect and Promote.
- Healthcare and technology enterprises continue to dimensionalize their collaboration and the alchemy that it creates, blurring definitions of industries and taking full advantage of AI and other digital tools that rapidly accelerate progress and reduce inefficiency.
- Pharma and biotech continue to converge. Biotech’s get over themselves, seeing that partnering with the “big guys” is essential to bringing their genius to the people, and with their greater focus on innovation, a slimmed-down “big pharma” can attract and keep great talent.
- Pharma self-reforms, going beyond “transparency” to openness, leveraging the collaborative spirit across businesses and sectors engendered by the COVID-19 crisis.
- Individuals are clear on their “co-ownership” of healthcare along with HCP’s, and the consumer healthcare marketplace becomes more sophisticated as pharma companies set their older, commoditized inventions free to operate in the consumer marketplace they now belong in.
- The responsibility of the CCO evolves from reputation to relationships. It is only the latter that endures during crises and that generate synergy across disciplines.
- Having public-facing, accessible leaders is SOP for healthcare companies (i.e. a chief public health officer, a chief patient officer or both).
- Translational research becomes a norm in biomedicine, as does collaboration between clinicians and public health professionals.
- Public health is factored into all policies—business, educational and government, with public health experts as essential members of executive leadership across industries.
- Basic health literacy is a required competency to graduate from high school, and every college’s core curriculum includes public health. Curricula move from what not to do, to how to live and influence good health, throughout the life-course.
- The brain is welcomed into the wholeness of the body—with mental and cognitive health given the investment and respect it merits.
- Health media, communications and publishing continue to converge—and embrace science and visualization to convey content that is evidence-based.
- The de rigueur expression of business citizenship is made complete, becoming ESGH. We have finally embraced environment, society and governance as the shared responsibility of every ethical company because we know that our life on our planet is vulnerable and inextricably interdependent. Now let’s ensure that includes human life.
Even as we continue to fight the pandemic, we also take stock that much of the knowledge needed to prevent this catastrophe existed before–before we applied the power of collective action, cross-industry collaboration, societal co-operation and full-on co-ownership of health.
So, as we struggle to stabilize and recover from the loss, suffering and damage caused by a global health crisis, let’s make 2021 the beginning of a new era. We don’t need the adrenaline of an immediate existential threat to exert our multipartite health power. In making these open-eyed moves, we will generate value not only for our shareholders and stakeholders today but for our children and their future.