Key Takeaways from the World Health Care Congress 2021
by Sarah Gunter
During the 2021 Congress, health care professionals shared their experience and expertise on the relevant issues facing the industry in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Topics included industry response to the pandemic, the return to work, and the role of technology.
Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic
It takes all of us to protect all of us. These were the sentiments voiced by Gary Disbrow, Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, This guidance reflects how Covid has made glaringly apparent the need for investment in public health. While the experts praised the way in which the health care industry evolved to meet the needs of the population during the pandemic (using virtual care, supporting access to testing, and distributing vaccines), they heavily criticized the U.S. health care system for being reactive when it should have been proactive.
From the shortage of personal protective equipment to the overflow of patients at hospitals without room to accommodate them, it is obvious the U.S. was not prepared for a pandemic. Experts urged a greater investment in public health, explaining that the solutions lie in prevention and collaboration. Investing in scientific research is a preventive measure that might stop the next pandemic before it even starts, as it could mean identifying the top pathogens and developing potential vaccines before they have the chance to spread. If there was another global health crisis, collaboration would be vital in controlling the spread; improved communication and partnership between a wide variety of organizations would help streamline the flow of information and optimize the division of resources, giving everyone better access to care. Implementing these solutions will require national oversight and legislative action; thus, the issue of public health needs to be higher on the political agenda. Even as we begin to return to normal, the experts caution that we stay vigilant, as we have learned the consequences of being complacent when it comes to public health.
The Return to Work
Sara Martin, CEO at the Wellness Council of America, spoke about the return to work, advising that “we need to recognize that there are individual differences in how employees best get work done—some people work better in person or at home than others, we should trust employees to figure out what’s best for them in terms of work life balance, and let them shape their transition.” While many employees are eager to reenter the office, others have come to thrive working from home. Some find that working virtually is actually more efficient, as they no longer have to commute and they’re in charge of managing their own time. The realization that not all work needs to happen in the office has led many to consider throwing out the old model. The experts imagine a future that is hybrid: team or group work happens in person, while individual work can be done from home. However, returning to work won’t be entirely this simple. Employees will need to be given support and time, as many have undoubtedly been impacted by the pandemic.
Health trends over the past fifteen months show a rise in mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a decline in metabolic health due to sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits. An increasing number of employees have been reaching out to their employers asking about mental and behavioral health benefits. For managers, who often carry the responsibility of maintaining personal relationships with their employees, having empathy during this time is key, but it’s important to remember that managers are not therapists. Managers must be equipped to connect their employees with professional help and offer strategies for feeling calm in order to ensure the smoothest transition.
Covid has reshaped a lot in our world: our understanding and perception of public health, the way we structure our time at work and in life, and our relationship with technology. It’s undeniable that the pandemic has revealed many flaws in our health care system, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that we’ve been forced to innovate and evolve. The transition back to normal gives us a chance to reimagine what that “normal” is. Our future becomes increasingly hybrid as we use technology in new ways and come to rely on it more in our daily lives, and there’s freedom in the accessibility that technology gives us. Freedom to reclaim our time, to optimize our schedules and our work/life balance, and to take control of our health.
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