While we are still some ways off from a world unaffected by COVID-19, we are moving into a new, more hopeful era. As we make plans for the future – instead of simply coping with the crisis at hand – it seems likely that the innovative companies who helped chart our path out of the storm will lead us through the new normal.

Some parts of this new normal, when it comes, will look familiar: visits with friends and family, weddings and birthday parties, seeing a favorite band in concert, taking that long-delayed vacation. But some of it shouldn’t be like it once was. The COVID-19 crisis was a disruption in the truest sense of the word, pushing us to be more aware of our health and to expect more – and better – from those to whom we look for care.

At Real Chemistry, we counsel and work with many of the companies that emerged as leaders during the past year. Through them, we can learn from this crisis and find new opportunities to emerge stronger and healthier.

Connect People to Care – And Lower Future Risk

We may never face another global pandemic in our lifetime, but we should act as if another one is coming soon and take steps to minimize its damage. Health companies can play a vital role by ensuring that everyone has equitable access to care, especially care that reduces the impact of chronic diseases.

Chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease became even more troublesome during COVID-19, increasing risk of complications from the virus. This was more pronounced in marginalized communities that were already experiencing higher rates of these conditions. Even before the pandemic, these conditions cost our health system billions each year and limited its capacity, making us less prepared to handle an acute health crisis. 

In our work, we have seen how care brought closer to patients through leveraging technology can improve equitable access. For example, could we use artificial intelligence and analytics to identify people at risk for chronic disease and intervene early or provide treatment options that suit them best? And how can we build constructive, supportive health services designed to mitigate chronic disease and help people live healthier, while at the same time cutting the economic and societal costs of chronic disease?

Support Patients to Get the Care They Need

Anxieties about COVID-19 led many people to delay care, including screenings and surgeries, often to their own detriment. Cancer screenings dropped dramatically in the pandemic’s early months; by June 2020, 41 percent of Americans reported having had avoided some care due to COVID fears.

Health companies assumed a new role during the pandemic: That of patient-facing communicators. Many served as a bridge between overworked medical professionals and patients who needed to better understand their options. Amid a crowded and often decentralized health information landscape, some organizations created new platforms to help alleviate concerns while informing patients about the risks of postponing needed care.

When the pandemic is over, health companies should not put this work aside. Informing and empowering patients will be good for everyone in the patient-provider continuum.

Listen and Act Thoughtfully

As we move towards the post-pandemic era, the most important thing that health companies can do is listen. Everyone is more aware of health than ever before; most of us will emerge from this experience with both a new appreciation for – and new expectations of – what’s possible in health. 

The good news is that people are increasingly vocal about their health needs and where the health system is meeting them – or coming up short. But it can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Even with significant news coverage around the development of vaccines, many people had questions about them and many others questioned whether they would receive their shots.

Over time, those concerns have become less prominent. Public surveys and our analytics show us that vaccine confidence continues to rise as people eagerly share their vaccine stories on social media. 

Through our work, we have seen the value of trusted messengers, especially healthcare workers, to broaden that support. Influencers have helped answer the questions of individuals unsure about the safety or efficacy of the vaccines. This especially holds true in communities of color, many members of which have long felt that the healthcare system did not have their best interests at heart. 

In the end, there’s a theme to what we’ve learned over the past year: Do more listening than talking, rely on trusted voices with expertise and help people get the information and the answers they need in the most convenient way possible. That’s the path to making the world a healthier place.