Emma Lynn
Emma Lynn

Equitable access to healthcare. Climate change. The need for innovation. The cost of innovation. Urgent. Complex. Debated.

All of the above.

As health communicators, we can all admit that these phrases were components of any recent statement we've drafted. And it's logical, as the healthcare industry faces new challenges and compounding issues brought on by the global pandemic and global warming.

Yet, we can also admit that while these statements of support and commitment are important, it's time to move beyond just saying it. To have a real, life-saving impact across stretched health systems, health inequities and the climate emergency, we need to take decisive and collective action now.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '21 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

For the skeptics who think "easier said than done," we know it can be done because it has already been. The pandemic was a catalyst for many firsts—vaccines, medical breakthroughs, deliveries of care, private and public collaborations—with no single entity able to claim this success. In all of these examples, there were multiple stakeholders pulling in the same direction to make things happen.

As expectations increase for global institutions to prepare for and prevent future health crises, we must use the lessons of the "pandemic mindset" to pave the way for the next innovations. This needs to play out in a number of ways:

Increased collaboration and trust

During the pandemic, we witnessed how institutions came together in new ways with astonishing results. Governments, health systems and public health bodies were working with businesses on a daily basis to solve a shared, existential threat. Trust and transparency were essential to those partnerships, and because of it, they were able to protect and save lives.

We need to maintain the momentum we saw during the worst of times. We must take a moon-shot approach to tackle misinformation and lack of trust, key issues that stand in the way of human and planetary health. The health industry can lead by continuing these partnerships, with transparency on both accomplishments and hurdles, to keep building on the public trust needed for success. Mobilizing action with those who share your interests is the key to progress.

One thing is certain: No organization can solve these problems alone. We need to galvanize the often-siloed efforts of healthcare organizations to be more disruptive and to deliver true impact.

Tipping the balance to prevention

Governments and health systems across the world are in constant search of ways to "fix" the growing list of issues related to healthcare costs versus population and environmental demands. We continue to plug the holes, making endless time-bound target commitments on specific health issues rather than taking a more holistic view of the lifelong health journey.

Healthcare has long been a bastion of innovation and challenging the status quo, and this mindset must be applied broadly to the protection of health. There are incredible emerging data capabilities, digital tools and technological advances that put together could transform population health, improve the reach and accessibility of health information, support healthier lifestyles, improve patient outcomes, reduce burden and costs to health systems and overall help people live healthier more productive lives.

Yet communities must trust these tools in order to adopt them and in order for them to succeed. We must make sure people are hearing from those they relate to, and that we're tapping into a diversity of voices and experiences.

Embracing new responsibilities

Edelman's 2021 Trust Barometer highlighted Business as the most trusted institution for the first time ever. Business leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be catalysts for change. This isn't just an opportunity, but an expectation; globally, 86 percent said they expect CEOs to speak out on societal matters.

Healthcare has an advantage here. Nobody has more experience in delivering life-changing innovation and enacting transformation than the people who have spent years and millions or billions of dollars researching and developing solutions to our problems. Healthcare leaders must take this mindset beyond the products and solutions their companies create and apply it to the bigger issues of societal and community health needs.

This is a critical and historic moment for bold systemic action, fueled by an urgency to create a healthy world for the next generation. It's time to build trust across all institutions. Governments, health systems, businesses all need to be courageous enough to re-create a landscape that more fundamentally and strategically solves the many social and economic challenges of our time. Focused through the lens of a global pandemic that has had an unimaginable impact on our people, our freedoms and our economies.

During the height of the pandemic, we didn't have time to question, debate or work in silos. In the face of mounting health threats, we still don't have time to spare. We must move forward together, with trust in each other to do what's right and what's needed.


Emma Lynn is Deputy of Edelman Global Health.