While there has always been a correlation between the health of the population and the economy, never has it been more apparent.
COVID-19 has pushed healthcare to the forefront of every organization’s agenda. Businesses across the world have adapted to telecommuting, reconfigured work environments and logistics, and updated operating protocols to cope with the effects of the global pandemic. While there has always been a correlation between the health of the population and the economy, never has it been more apparent. Governments across the world have realized that investing in the health of the population can not only improve quality of life and mitigate the risks of public health crises, but also lead to greater economic returns and productivity.
The pandemic is set to cause 4.5 percent permanent loss to India’s GDP, according to experts. Poor health and loss of productive potential amongst the working population will only make things more difficult. If we want to achieve health improvements and minimize economic losses, then we need to shift the focus to preventive care. A large percentage of economic benefits can be achieved with safer work environments, by encouraging workers to adopt healthier lifestyles, and by increasing access to medicines and preventive care. The rest will come from timely treatment of diseases with proven treatments.
The shift to prevention is easier said than done. Not only does it necessitate the need to shift incentives in existing healthcare systems to health promotion, but it also foregrounds the need to make better health a policy prerogative. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of tackling NCDs, which have been one of the leading causes of disease complications. NCDs are responsible for 61 percent of deaths in the country, and we need to focus on scaling up NCD screening programs and awareness drives to address chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart and lung diseases, stroke, and cancer. A paradigm shift in focus to preventive care can be realized at a low cost and the implementation costs will be more than offset by the gains to productivity in healthcare delivery.
Time to rethink healthcare architecture
The pandemic has demonstrated that it is possible to rethink healthcare service delivery. Rethinking workforce and patient flow in COVID-19 wards and a transition to teleconsultations are just two notable transitions. People are already demonstrating that it is not that difficult to induce a behavioral change by demonstrating their readiness to wear masks, prioritize hand hygiene, and reduce person-to-person interactions to help curtail the spread of the virus.
The pandemic has also fast-tracked innovation and collaboration by scientists across the globe. If this is sustained, it can help us address major health conditions like cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and mental health disorders. As of September 2020, scientists have shared more than 50,000 genome sequences and close to 200 vaccines are in different stages of development. Many of these are the result of multi-sectoral, trans-national collaborations. Companies are playing a key role in the ongoing transformation. Pharma giants, healthcare providers, and the medical tech industry are an integral part of the pandemic response. They should further come up with ways to build on the innovations and help do their part in the ongoing remodeling of healthcare systems, ensuring alignment of incentives and efficient collaboration to improve the overall health and prosperity of the population.
The corporate world needs to adapt
Companies outside the healthcare domain are also adapting to the crisis by revamping their organizational workflow and operation models. There is a strong economic case to be made for the need to invest in the health of their employees. In today’s fast-paced and hectic corporate world, the occupational risks are increasingly linked to mental health triggers, sleep hygiene, and the level of physical activity, with mental health fast becoming a concern as the economic uncertainty associated with the pandemic is beginning to take its toll. Chronic conditions like migraines, back pain, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression can reduce the productivity of workers and have a negative effect on the quality of life. Companies should seriously consider providing greater access to mental health services and more flexible working hours.
Encouraging workers to take advantage of telehealth and virtual programs is the first step. Times like these bring a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, and people feel the need to talk to a counselor. The mobility restrictions not only make that more difficult but also end up exacerbating symptoms of anxiety. That is precisely where telehealth comes into play. It will help people cope better in times of crises, and induce a behavioral change in their attitudes towards seeking remote help, which is necessary as we increasingly adapt to a digitally mediated life. By offering telehealth benefits, organizations will have an engaged and productive workforce while employees benefit from a convenient and readily accessible form of healthcare. It will be an integral component of employee well-being plans in the future.