Learning from the Past to Face an Unprecedented Present: Part 2

By: Dan Miers 

As the COVID-19 crisis impacts every area of society, healthcare organizations and strategists continue to contend with an unprecedented reality. What was once considered “business as usual” won’t be returning any time soon, if ever. Recall that “strategy is merely a framework around which to improvise,” and, although this crisis is unlike anything we’ve seen before, there are lessons healthcare organizations and marketers can take from the past and use to inform how they’ll need to improvise next.

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 reveals three areas of inspiration from which healthcare strategic marketers can improvise for the benefit of their organizations and communities now:

  1. The imperative for sustained communications to raise awareness of your brand
  2. The crisis’ health effects, which will extend beyond the battle with the virus itself, and
  3. The potential for business transformation and brand revolution

I’ve already explored the compelling evidence for sustained, thoughtful communications as the crisis evolves. Just as crucial is the need to consider the pandemic’s other health effects beyond those of COVID-19.

Societal Disruptions and Physical Health

The Great Recession was a period of global economic decline, stagnant wages and high unemployment. In the U.S., it also took a significant toll on health. For example, research conducted by physician-scientists at UCLA found, “Compared to expected measurements… [Americans] saw [negative] changes in blood pressure and blood glucose levels following the recession.”

Certain age, demographic and economic groups experienced the impact more acutely, and evidence suggests the stress of unemployment and uncertainty hurt physical well-being broadly. The researchers saw deeper effects among those groups more severely hurt by the recession. For instance, two of the impacted groups included younger adults who likely needed jobs (as opposed to retirees) and older homeowners who likely witnessed their investments plummet alongside their home values—the recession had ripped their financial security out from under them. Changes in health insurance status or an inability to pay for medicine might explain some of the blood pressure and glucose increases, the researchers said.

An emerging story worth considering is the connection between COVID-19 and heart health. Recent research documented, “infection has been associated with multiple direct and indirect cardiac complications,” which could “produce long-term effects from such damage.” With over 600,000 Americans, and growing, having been infected with the virus, communications around cardiac monitoring present an additional lingering health implication.

The Pandemic’s Psychological Toll

On March 26, 2020, the U.S. set a record as 3.3 million Americans filed new unemployment claims in the week—a profound jump from the roughly 250,000 per week seen consistently for the last five years—and 6.6. million more claims were filed each of the following two weeks. Skyrocketing unemployment, wild stock market fluctuations, uncertainty about personal virus exposure, stress from disrupted daily routines of work, home, school, and the like provide fertile breeding ground for behavioral health needs.

According to one article, “Coronavirus anxiety is showing up at Crisis Text Line, where users of the free mental health support service are mentioning words like scared, terrified, overwhelmed, panicking, and paranoid to describe their feelings. One-third of the service's conversations are normally about anxiety; that increased to more than 40 percent in March. Volume for the online therapy service Talkspace has risen by 25 percent since mid-February.”

Health system and technology innovators have made significant strides to meet America’s historically-underserved mental health needs. Post-COVID-19, the need for continued innovation will intensify.

Plan Now to Meet Both Needs

In light of these troubling trends, health system strategists and marketers should begin preparations to identify and help communities cope with the “non-virus” health impacts of COVID-19. It’s sound leadership, it’s mission-driven, and it will nurture goodwill.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented disruption. And one of its unique demands is the stress and strain on patients’ health beyond the virus itself. Healthcare strategists and their organizations have the opportunity—and really, the imperative—to begin planning to mitigate the impact. Next, I’ll explore the final area where The Great Recession’s takeaways can be used to improvise powerfully: Business Transformation and Brand Revolution.

Read part 1 of this blog series here.