If you remember nothing else about the time you spend with this, our July/August 2020 issue, please let it be the information contained in the infographic, which shows in stark detail the disparity in the impact of the coronavirus between rich and poor, white and People of Color. It’s based on ZIP codes. And the fact that anyone with even a modicum of experience in health-related communications would look at it and understand it right away says everything you need to know about healthcare in the United States in 2020. It’s shocking, but it’s not a surprise. And it simply has to change.
As the hoary old saying goes, there’s no point wasting a crisis. COVID-19 has exposed myriad fundamental flaws — and a few strengths — in the way we deliver healthcare that future generations will look back at us in wonder if we don’t seize the opportunity to make corrections. When unemployment approaches 20%, it shines a bright light on the fact that more than half of all Americans receive health insurance through their employers and are now uninsured. When a virus hits poorer populations harder than wealthier, it shows that access to quality healthcare is unequal. And when those poorer populations are overwhelmingly Black and Brown individuals, it highlights an inescapable and fundamental racism that permeates every part of our society.
Strengths? Look at the astonishing speed with which COVID-19 vaccines have reached Phase III clinical trials. That, we know how to do.
If there’s a silver lining to the crisis, it’s that so many of these issues are now out in the open and are top of mind in the parts of society that actually drive change. Government is at best at a standstill and at worst an active impediment to making necessary changes, so it will fall to industries such as ours to be the agents of real change. Will we rise to the occasion and reach the ultimate goal — to improve outcomes for all members of our society? Or will we talk a lot about it, then move on to the next thing when certain hashtags stop trending?
The answer has to be: We will rise to the occasion. There is no other choice. Nobody who works in this space would deny that access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. We have to work every day, not just when the topic is trending, to improve the health of all our citizens and communities. It won’t happen overnight. It took a long time to get into this situation, and it will take time to resolve. But resolve it we can. And resolve it we will. There is no other choice.