Kathy BloomgardenKathy Bloomgarden

Americans are struggling through work-life balance exhaustion, an overload of dark news and a pandemic that seems to extend forever. And yet, Ruder Finn's recent FutureThink Index found that as a society, we remain mostly positive about our futures, with 58 percent of Americans feeling positive about what's to come in terms of career, health and technology.

The Ruder Finn FutureThink Index is a new tracking study that aims to measure how Americans think about the future. It explores how the Transparency, Dialogue and Knowledge connections respondents have with businesses and providers impacts their outlook and behaviors. The study emphasizes healthcare as a critical force impacting people's futures: as the pandemic goes on, with additional waves of COVID, we still need to battle the healthcare needs of the population to get back to normal or to build back better. There are several areas which are urgent: vaccinating more of the population and adopting healthier behaviors, improving health through individual use of new technologies and reaching more of the underserved population. The index lends insight into how to progress in each of these three areas that are fundamental to improving health.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '21 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
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Individual responsibility for new health behaviors

As the current wave of COVID and the Delta variant illustrates, we still need to reach those who remain vaccine-hesitant. Businesses and leaders have tried both vaccine requirements and incentives, and the President has just announced vaccine mandates for government workers, asking businesses with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccines or submit to weekly testing. But it doesn't only have to be a stick-or-carrot approach. Making a meaningful connection with those who are resistant must also be part of the solution. Our study shows that when people have high TDK connection with healthcare leaders and providers, they're 20 percent more likely to get vaccinated. This means that leaders who exercise and encourage transparency, dialogue and knowledge-sharing have a significant impact on vaccine positivity. Going forward, we must emphasize educational efforts to share knowledge about vaccinations and COVID as well as stimulate a dialogue with those who are trusted in the community. Local voices are often more impactful than national influencers. Health professionals need to be paired with religious leaders, advocacy groups and peers to increase dialogue and create an environment of understanding. To increase personal relevance, we also need to explore the factors and channels that influence each demographic cohort. For example, our study shows that vaccine rates correlate directly with people's levels of TDK connection: the percentage of Gen Xers with high Health TDK connection is more than twice that of Gen Z; and the percentage of people in cities with high Health TDK connection is 50 percent-plus higher than in the suburbs or rural areas, with knowledge-sharing being the most significant driver of positive change in those groups.

The impact of approaching healthcare through transparency, dialogue and knowledge sharing lens has impact beyond just vaccinations. Americans with high Health TDK connection are overall 37 percent more likely to take personal action to improve their health: 22 percent more likely to change eating diet and habits, 55 percent more likely to use a wearable health device and 45 percent more likely to start a new prescription medication.

Adopting new technology tools

We learned a great deal from the pandemic about how technology could transform most industries. The increase in telemedicine has skyrocketed to 38 times higher than it was before the pandemic, according to McKinsey & Company. The amount of money being poured into digital-health startups is already upwards of $14.7 billion in 2021 as reported by the Wall Street Journal. 2021 is projected to be the most-funded year to date for the digital health sector. From smart watches and other wearables to at-home COVID tests, there's a wave of innovation that could help people to improve their health.

One example is how technology is helping ameliorate the increased levels of mental stress experienced during the pandemic. During the pandemic, about 42 percent of employees globally said their mental health declined. Employers have sponsored digital health offerings on demand, including meditation apps, online therapy sessions, digital biomarker apps, analytic tools that collect remote data from wearables and provide guidance on when to seek help to boost positive mindsets. Of course, people need to use the tools and not drop out of these systems, which is where a TDK connection can make a difference. Americans with high TDK connection ​are 78 percent more likely to use new technologies than people with medium or low TDK connection.

Reaching the underserved

We also need to double our efforts to reach more segments of the population, especially those who have suffered from low access to healthcare. The FutureThink Index shows populations who are uncertain about their outlook for the future are increasingly less likely to act to better their own health.

Consider that rural residents are among the most vaccine-hesitant group in America, despite the fact that people in rural areas are at an increased risk for severe COVID-19. CNN highlights that 80 percent of rural Americans live in locations designated as "medically underserved," with lower access to regular doctor appointments and consistent healthcare insurance.

These audiences are not receiving regular and authentic communications that shape their thinking and therefore are suffering from what we term "Negative FutureThink," which, in fact, leads not only to things like health instability but also more overarching stagnation toward action and change.

The good news is that the American Dream is alive and well; a new leadership model has built better connections with Americans, helping to shape a positive FutureThink across all demographics. We have learned a great deal about the healthcare gaps we have to fill coming out of the pandemic. With a new commitment to increasing transparency, dialogue and knowledge-sharing, we can improve connections to achieve better healthcare outcomes.


Kathy Bloomgarden is CEO of Ruder Finn. The Ruder Finn FutureThink Index study was designed in conjunction with Full Spectrum Insights and surveyed a representative sample of 2,000 18+ year-old Americans between July 25 and August 28, 2021 on Pollfish.