Let’s Make Healthcare as Diversified as our One Human Population Needs it to Be

At the writing of this piece, coronavirus/COVID-19 has affected over 693,000 people globally, with the count rising every hour. The pandemic has already proven a wakeup call for some of the shortcomings of healthcare systems around the world, the United States included. And in the wake of the crisis—which we hope will arrive sooner than later—experts will study in detail the various responses around the globe, and we will likely understand much more clearly the ways in which we fell short and the ways in which we can do better.

One way in which we can begin to do better is to broaden our thinking about what constitutes the healthcare industry at the outset. Just as determinants of health are much larger than healthcare itself, the determinants of healthcare are larger than the healthcare industry. The challenge—and the opportunity—then, is to widen our thinking about which industries play a role in healthcare, to find more accurate and inclusive ways for them to work together.

Health in All Policies

I was first inspired about “Health in All Policies” when the construct was presented in 2013 at the World Health Organization’s Global Conference on Health Promotion. The proposed central concept was that health is not just the business of the healthcare industry; it should be the business of all industries. The WHO’s website gives a good example: one in eight deaths in Europe is linked to air pollution, but the solution will be a joint effort from multiple areas, including energy (both industrial and household), transportation (building clean cars), urban planning (making cities more compact and walkable), housing (building more efficient housing), waste management and so on. Healthcare is at the center, working to coordinate the various sectors in their common goal.

Like a Venn diagram, numerous disciplines overlap with healthcare, some of which are obvious and others less so. Technology may be the best example of a field that has already partnered with healthcare in meaningful and life-changing ways: from sophisticated scanning and imaging to genetic tests for detecting bacterial and viral infection to the smartwatches that people wear to track their own health. But other disciplines also play key roles, including architecture, urban planning, food manufacture, energy and air quality science, and so on. These are all bases of knowledge that can and should deeply inform health.

All Our Health

Inclusivity has been an important and evolving concept in healthcare in recent decades. The meaning of the term has widened in scope, if slowly. For instance, in its first forms, inclusion might have implied only gender, and then expanded to racial/ethnic diversity—critically important areas each, but not yet representing the full diversity of the population. Nursing has been an impressive example of the evolution—as more men and minorities have entered the field, the nurse population has changed significantly, enabling a new sense of connection between patients and their providers, and increasing the reach of care. And as the meaning of diversity has become even broader, to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, among others, the population continues to benefit in numerous ways—not the least of which is healthcare for those who might not otherwise have access to or seek it.

But there is still much work to be done, and many more ways in which we can think creatively about diversity in healthcare— including all industries and professions—and realizing that caring about and for health is every business’s business.  And COVID-19 is fully inclusive—affecting every family, community, industry and nation.

If there’s one silver lining to the dark pandemic cloud hanging over all of us, everywhere, it’s that we can apply the rude awakening to our shared vulnerabilities to accelerate a more proactive, preventative and protective approach to health. Think “Provention” and act on it from all specialties, industries, generations and nations. Your health = our health, all our health.