4 Lessons Coronavirus is Teaching Us About How We View Health

Coronavirus is exposing how we view and manage health in the United States.

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1. Our response to health is reactionary.

When it comes to valuing our health, we react rather than be proactive. It wasn’t until we started hearing about an increased number of cases, as well as deaths, that we started to become engaged. It seems like all of a sudden, we now want tests-on-demand, vaccine development in months not years, and effective therapies ready to go. Yet, no one was engaged when we first started hearing about cases in China at the beginning of the year It’s the same way with other health issues. Many patients don’t start worrying about their health until they have a heart attack or stroke, or told they have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Then, I get their attention and can talk about ways to treat their condition and prevent it from getting worse. We can’t wait for a crisis to start addressing our health because we lose precious time and often have worse outcomes. Don’t wait until you have a heart attack to start making lifestyle changes.

2. It’s all about personal health, not population health.

Have you seen the reports about people hoarding masks and hand-sanitizers as well as some over-the-counter medicines at local drug stores? This can put people who need these at serious risk. If health care workers and first responders don’t have the right equipment, they might not be able to help when you actually do need it. Our mindset in health is not about populations — “it’s all about me.” in general, we don’t think about the health of our community, but rather what our personal health needs might be, even if it’s at the expense of others. Don’t get me wrong — it is important to focus on your health as well as that of family members. But when it comes to a public health crisis, we also need to think about the broader community. The health of the community does impact your health as well. We need to recognize that connection and invest in more public health initiatives. Let’s spend a more time talking public health as we do on personalized medicine. It may not be as “cool” but it has a real impact.

3. Our math skills need work.

Despite our focus on STEM, it seems many of us need a tutorial on basic statistics and how we evaluate risk. We either forget or didn’t know that tens of thousands of people die of influenza ever year. In comparison, the risk of coronavirus in most communities in the United States is very small. Experts have been talking about the potential mortality rate of 2-3% for coronavirus vs 0.1% for flu. When you hear coronavirus is 20 times more deadly, that sounds really scary. But you need to look at the numbers. There is still some question about the denominator designating how many people have the diagnosis. We don’t have good prevalence numbers. Few people, however, want to talk about the math, which is actually critical in understanding the true impact of this virus, and appropriately allocating resources.

4. Digital health plays an increasing role

Telemedicine is playing an increasingly important role in managing this epidemic. We don’t want people who think they may have the virus to come into the doctor’s office or the random emergency room, potentially exposing other people. Telemedicine has served a key role in allowing physicians to talk to patients as well as to get some basic data to determine the next steps. Remote patient monitoring also allows people to be quarantined safely at home. This is a win-win for everyone.

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