Pandemics / COVID-19
On the morning of Monday 3/2, I had to make a decision. Do I cancel a symposium scheduled for Saturday 3/7 that could attract some 400 people because of the COVID-19 or not? Further, the title of the symposium was “The New Health Age of the 21st Century” the third symposium of 2020, produced by The Sarasota Institute- A 21st Century Think Tank.
I had learned that there were two suspected COVID-19 cases in local hospitals. I had watched the political clown show at the highest level of federal government fail to measure up to the crisis. On Sunday March 1, the governor of Florida claimed a state-wide health emergency and promised to have a press conference on Monday 9:30. When there was no press conference, and the CDC had yet to confirm carriers, I felt that in my gut, I had to cancel. I had not heard of any cancellation in the U.S. but thought that it best to get out in front of a situation. Many members of The Sarasota Institute are over the age of 60 and many have some underlying health condition, the two markers of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, it felt odd to have a future of healthcare symposium when there is a public health emergency.
I was one of the first cancellations, as major conventions in Chicago and Orlando followed on Wednesday and Thursday. There have been many more since and there will be hundreds if not thousands of cancellations in the weeks ahead.
I have been speaking professionally about the future for 15 years. During that time one of the consistent questions I get from audiences is what I think about pandemics. In an ever more integrated, connected global economy, when more people are flying than ever before, it is a logical and expected question.
I have always answered that, yes, I think that there will be pandemics ahead. It is inevitable until such time as there is a global health authority that has a connected, independent ability to act on the ground anywhere and with full ability to freely and openly communicate. In addition, we are rapidly moving into an ever more connected world of big data and technological intelligence that provides the ability of speed of light sharing of data globally.
So, while there is higher risk for rapid spread of a virus due to the high mobility of people travelling globally for business and pleasure, the rapidly developing technologies we are creating can and will be the solutions, when fully and collaboratively utilized.
High connectivity speeds and levels of penetration to populations means that people can be highly functional due to high speed wireless, hand-held devices and all sorts of computers without leaving home. Work can be done at home to avoid contagion and the spreading of diseases. We can watch endless movies at home with our streaming subscriptions to avoid getting infected at a theater. The digital world replaces the physical world.
Just look at what is already happening in China and South Korea. Hundreds of thousands of students at all levels are avoiding infection by attending classes on-line. I was scheduled to have a national Zoom video conference with some 50 people two weeks ago. For the first time ever for me, Zoom failed to connect. The probable reason is that hundreds of thousands of students and workers were utilizing the bandwidth to work and learn from home. There was not enough bandwidth when millions avoid going out. This is something that should be considered as a public health baseline, to have bandwidth scalable when needed, pulling away if necessary from less urgent needs.
We have already seen that technological intelligence, when combined with big data, and data analytics can better diagnose terminal diseases than doctors. There is simply more data available than just the patient standing before the doctors. Technology, and its’ full integration into the healthcare system was something I wrote about, along with my co-author, Jonathan Fleece in our 2011 book “The New Health Age: The Future of Healthcare in America”
We had forecast that by 2020 the transparency and electronic connectivity, so lacking in the U.S healthcare system in 2010, would be close to complete. Well, the technology and connectedness is now here, but the speed and openness we have thought to be fully in place by now is not yet in place. As with many other forecasts we made that are not quite here, the reason is simple: the in-place constructs and status quo slowed down change, as it almost always the case in rigid business models.
In Florida we are confronted with a developing probability that the COVID-19 virus will be making its way through our community. The first cases have arrived, hand sanitizer is sold out everywhere and we are uneasy about how to proceed and what to do.
Frankly, this past week has shown, at the national and local levels, that clear, daily scientific briefings about what is going on and what to do about the COVID-19 virus have not occurred. In matters of public health, immediate, on-going communication of necessary facts and procedures is the baseline. The other baseline activity in any public health crisis is to have been prepared before the crisis occurs. The total and complete failure to have hundreds of thousands of test kits for this virus, is simply beyond comprehension. We knew America would get cases, sooner or later.
To have no working testing kits available when there was certainty that the virus would reach the U.S. is a remarkable failure. To follow that up with a promise to have 1,000,000 testing kits available in a week and then deliver 75,000, it poor communications and execution.
Just pause for a minute and think about how much information overload we are subjected to when there is an imminent threat of a hurricane hitting Florida. We all start watching the Weather Channel, local newscasts are constantly giving us information and 2-3 times a day we have an update from NOAA and the Hurricane Center in Atlanta. We have half a dozen different algorithmic based potential paths that the hurricane might take. We have more than enough information as to how to protect health and property.
Over the past five or six years I have been stating and forecasting that it is now time for the private sector to step up to face the Common Good. Everywhere in the world, governments are deeply in debt, democracies are creaky and have difficulty functioning and we often wonder if anything will get done.
To suggest a hypothetical situation. The government is not out in front of a pandemic. Amazon, with its ability to deliver to the home within 24 hours, spends millions to develop a test for, say the COVID-19 virus. People wait at home, avoid contracting the virus and with free shipping, have a test kit in 24 hours. Amazon Health immediately would become more trusted that government at any levels that is not providing information and tests for citizens.
There will be many more pandemics in the next couple of decades. Global warming is heating up the planet. There has even been speculation that the Black Plague, the deadliest contagion in recorded history, is frozen in the Arctic tundra, and may well escape into the atmosphere with continued warming. Whether that specifically happens, our over-populated planet, compromised food distribution channels, with mass migrations becoming a regular global dynamic, guarantees that more pandemics are ahead.
In addition, as we have experienced hacking in our cyberworld, it is a clear and present danger that viruses could easily and cheaply be hacked and distributed out into the traveling public.
One aspect of the future of healthcare is that we move from a pound of cure healthcare system in the U.S. to an ounce of prevention lower cost, healthier one . Prevention is and will be ever more important. Pre means before. We cannot have such unpreparedness at the federal level ever again. As the Boy Scouts of America have said for 100 years: “Be Prepared!’