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Tim Fisher, VP Behavioral Science, PhD Sociology, Klick Health

Covid-19 has caused the world to collectively go through an illness experience. As society has adapted, new possibilities of a world better designed for living with illness are emerging.

The idea of Covid-19 as a collective illness experience is powerful for the life science industry to think about. First, consider how often patients living with chronic conditions struggle to maintain their employment, need physical accommodations, feel isolated at home, and potentially ration their medications.

Then consider how with Covid-19, workplaces have shifted to enable work from home, business accommodated physical distancing, new services emerged to deal with the experience of isolation, and new methods were developed to enable the timely delivery of medications. Looking at these similarities and drawing on how Covid-19 has personally affected everyone, including those working in health care, can help the industry bettwe understand patients’ struggles and the ways in which the world needs to and can adapt. Moreover, it could help us design a better world for patients living with a chronic conditions across various stages.

The “diagnosis” moment

Sociologist Michael Bury describes a diagnosis as a “biographical disruption” because it disrupts so many of the taken-for-granted assumptions of everyday life. While most people, thankfully, haven’t contracted Covid-19, their lives have been disrupted and they have had to come to terms with the threat of the virus, as well as their susceptibility. Based on Bury’s description, this could be called a “diagnosis” moment but unlike patients who experience a chronic condition diagnosis phase alone or with loved ones, we are going through Covid-19 collectively.

But imagine if a patient newly diagnosed with type-2 diabetes (T2D) had a truly collective experience where they were surrounded by other patients just like them from the start (similar employer, same neighborhood, etc.) as they learned about the condition and made adaptations to their life. Imagine that everyone in the patient’s household was in lockstep with the patient making the same changes in response to the threat. What if the patient could easily see how others, like them, were coping? How would a patient’s adaptation post-diagnosis be different if it happened collectively like we experienced with Covid-19?

The struggle for control

Patients living with a chronic condition want to feel like they have the “upper hand” over their condition, but they often struggle to influence their own outcomes and the environment around them.

With Covid-19, the struggle for control was initially expressed in behaviors like hoarding toilet paper and frozen foods before learning how simple behaviors, like vigilant handwashing, physical distancing, and wearing face masks, minimized exposure to the virus. The adoption of these behaviors was made easier because they were reinforced through various media and implemented through measures like new grocery delivery options and more fashionable face masks. As everyone increasingly adopted these behaviors, they quickly became social norms.

Now, imagine if patients with T2D lived in a world optimized for their experience. Their workplace cafeteria would feature diabetic-friendly foods with carb counts clearly identified, and non-diabetic coworkers would also eat these foods. Pharmacies would deliver medication within hours of placing the order. This imagined scenario could be a model where personalization is delivered at scale for certain tribes or communities.

The diminished lifeworld

The world can feel like it’s shrinking for patients with a chronic condition, especially if mobility is limited or they experience depression and withdraw from the people around them. Not surprisingly, isolation has been one of the greatest challenges of life during Covid-19. Even the most introverted and self-sufficient people have expressed difficulty in sheltering at home, and not being able to go to the local coffee shop or do other small daily tasks that give them a sense of connection with their community.

In response, we’ve seen a shift whereby museums are offering free virtual tours, popular chefs are leading free online cooking classes, and fitness classes are being streamed online. As the world goes through the same experience, there is an absence of stigma associated with being at home. Asking friends to connect via video conference on Saturday night is not perceived negatively because everyone is stuck at home.

For many patients who feel isolated, Covid-19 gives us a glimpse into new ways that can enhance a patient’s lifeworld by bringing organizations and experiences into the home.

To start the process, life sciences leaders should:

  • Use analogous thinking to create new possibilities for the patient journey
  • Use the power of collective experience to help patients
  • Leverage the home environment in new ways

For more details on how to implement these steps, please explore Life (Sciences) After Covid-19, to read the full article and find a collection of Klick Health perspectives designed to inform and inspire the life sciences community for the changes, challenges, and opportunities anticipated as a result of the global health crisis.