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Leading with optimism: the paradox of the pandemic

Leading with optimism: the paradox of the pandemic
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The negativity that surrounds the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unique challenges it has created, understandably make it difficult to find reasons for optimism. In the past five months, we have adjusted and adapted our way of life, and been consumed by concerns about childcare, education, work, and, most important, the health of our families. But while a pandemic by its very essence threatens our health and breeds anxiety, this pandemic has delivered more than adverse effects. The paradox of this pandemic is that it has actually made us healthier and stronger in a lot of ways and helped us accelerate changes in our behavior and healthcare delivery that will be long-lasting.

While these times have surely changed our everyday behaviors, they have also shown us our true selves, and that there is good reason for optimism. When confronted with the impetus of this crisis we have seen creativity, innovation, and our ability to move forward quickly with purpose.

Take for example telehealth. Prior to the pandemic, the idea of consulting with your doctor over video conference to diagnose minor ailments or determine if there is a need for in-person evaluation had been discussed — but not realized — for many years. The pandemic forced the hand of telehealth in 2020. Until now, we could purchase clothing, groceries, home goods, and other services with a few touches of our phone; but health services were out of reach. Necessity truly is the mother of innovation, and when no other options existed for patients to see their healthcare provider in person, telehealth became necessary. And this advancement will only lead to more opportunities to make healthcare more accessible to millions of Americans — and that is a reason to lead with optimism.

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The global pandemic also has inspired a global response. We have been reminded that we are all connected in our struggles and that global problems require global solutions. Regional differences in public policy, trade, and politics can easily divide us and push us towards developing silos and concentrating our efforts. The pandemic has served as a proof-point that there is much to be learned from the experiences around the world and that best-practices, treatments, and the availability of a vaccine will affect us all.

To this end, the pandemic pushed global innovative healthcare companies to take a “one team” mentality to harness the success of regional solutions and create global impacts. Our company, for example, saw China and then Europe begin to confront this challenge before the United States — sharing best practices, learning from the personal experiences of colleagues, and supporting each other’s work in new ways has brought us closer together in our work at a time when we cannot physically interact with one another. This global response has put humanity and health above sovereignty and personal interest — and that is reason to lead with optimism.

But perhaps most importantly, the pandemic has refocused us on what matters most — our health, and the health of those closest to us. It is the foundation upon which we rest the fullness of our lives. For many, before March, it was easy to become consumed with the other details that move us through our days, and it wasn’t a constant consideration when we left our homes or interacted with others. Self-care and the care of others sit now at the top of our list of priorities. The pandemic has re-centered our attention on our loved ones and forced us to change behaviors that previously may have put ourselves and others at risk. 

An occupational health and safety survey taken during the pandemic found that 88 percent of Americans believe they are extremely or somewhat likely to maintain their increased hand washing regimen once the virus has passed. A United Healthcare survey recently found that more Americans say walking has been their preferred method of exercise since the pandemic began, and one in five adults are reaching for healthier foods. We have become more conscious of our daily decisions to keep ourselves and our communities healthy and safe, and engraining this mindset into the future will save lives — and that is a reason to lead with optimism.

We all can agree this pandemic has had ruthless and lasting impacts on millions around the globe, and the most logical response is to fret with despair. But the paradox of the pandemic is that it has left in its wake new and better healthcare approaches, better information sharing by innovators, and healthier behaviors. All that should be reason for optimism.

Lynn Taylor is senior vice president and head of healthcare global government and public affairs at EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. Follow her on Twitter @LynnATaylor