Public Health & Health Systems
What Has COVID-19 Taught Us About Our Health Care?
We are still coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic, so it's hard to take the time to reflect on lessons learned. But when we do have time to pause, we need to consider the impact the virus had -- and continues to have -- on our health care systems.
What have we learned?
How do we move forward?
What changes should we implement to better help us cope next time if -- heaven forbid -- there is a next time? All the science and data tell us that there will, almost certainly, be a next time, so how can we be better prepared?
The time will come when we do have time to review what we excelled at, and where we failed. America got some things very right -- the coronavirus task force set up by the White House is one example -- but we got too many things wrong. And getting things wrong costs lives. Here are just a few aspects of this we must keep in mind moving forward:
Our system must be fast and flexible
It took too long for our country to respond to the virus -- no one disputes that. All that is disputed is who's to blame for the slowness. Irrespective of that, we must find a way in the future for our medical experts, scientists, governments at all levels and public health officials to be able to respond quickly, decisively, and firmly to implement measures to protect the public. We are still arguing about the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing. If people can't get tested quickly, and get the results almost immediately, public confidence in going about their daily lives cannot be restored. And that has the domino effect of slowing our economic recovery even more. It becomes a vicious cycle. In other words, economic recovery is directly tied to our physical health as a nation.
We must balance civil freedoms and the need for the public good
America is a country built on the idea of personal liberty, and that clashes with strict measures taken to protect communities, like, for example, compelling people to wear face coverings. Somehow, we must find a way to balance those objectives; they are not mutually exclusive, but it takes a deft hand to respect freedoms while asking individuals to stay home.
We need consistent messaging
During an emergency like the virus, citizens need to hear a message from doctors, government officials, public health and other authority figures that strikes a similar tone. Too many times during this crisis, people heard vastly different messages from different sources, whether they be on TV, online, or from the government. When our country's health is at stake, nothing matters more than ensuring citizens get the facts from an accurate medical source, and get it continuously.
We need to enhance trust in our officials and institutions
This is a big ask in this fractured age, but faith in leaders is crucial. Somehow we must find ways to increase trust in everyone at the top, including politicians. If this virus has taught us anything, it has taught us that
Americans do not fully trust the people at the top, not only in politics, but in science and medicine, too.
These are not small issues that can be solved overnight, and perhaps not even in several years. But COVID-19 has revealed our bonds as well as our flaws as a nation; everyone is at risk from this virus, and we must learn how to navigate this terrain together. If we don't we may not learn lessons we need to learn should it reappear in the coming months, and the strain that may place on our healthcare system is almost unimaginable.
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