The New Normal
Many of the elements of the world we knew before 2020 have changed dramatically in the past few months. Such a statement is accurate to the point of practically becoming paltry, but it is true nonetheless. In thinking about these dramatic changes, it is important for us to continue to keep ourselves looking forward and focused on the ways we can shape our shared future.
Consider, as an example, the intersection of COVID and Politics. It is clear that there is now a unique situation in which science, and an understanding of its principals, are being brought into question in a way that can either improve or worsen a global health crisis as a direct result of local and global politics. It is in this light that people must develop a deeper understanding of those things they do not yet know, something only possible in an environment that is designed to be nurturing, collaborative and open to correction.
It is not terribly surprising that the current landscape has become so destabilized in the way people consume medical information. In a 2019 Gallup poll*, the pharmaceutical industry showed the highest amount of negative sentiment, beating out traditionally mistrusted institutions such as government and oil companies. A recent study found this mistrust is not only focused on the pharmaceutical industry but also on hospitals and healthcare providers, with nearly 3 in 5 individuals believing that HCPs or hospitals are not putting patients' health truly at the forefront of their practice. Join this with a growing interest of governments in the healthcare space, with 4 out of 5 big pharmaceutical companies expressing an increased amount of government involvement, and it is clear that the mistrust is not only rooted in the institutions but with the individuals who make them up.
In considering the cause of this, it bears note that the current world is constructed through no shortage of information; rather, the challenge we find is in distilling the truth from misinformation. Why then is there so little trust in information? Research suggests several root causes, but we will just call out just one for today: that we are all prone to confirmation bias.
Since it had first been coined in the 1960’s the term confirmation bias has come to refer to a person’s preference for ideals that do not conflict with their interpretation of the truth. These reactions are deeply rooted. Research in 2004 found that subjects asked politically linked questions referring to individuals while undergoing an MRI showed activation in emotional centers of the brain as compared to a distinct lack of these elements in non-politically charged questions. Add the fuel of social media and algorithmically built echo chambers within those platforms and our brains are inundated with reinforcing chemical reactions as a result of our stimuli.
So how do we move past this point in time and build the trust in true and accurate scientific information? In short, by fighting fire with fire. If we are able to change the networks that we engage, we can change the way that we approach any problem.
The old adage goes that you are who you surround yourself with. This is especially true in terms of the thoughts you hold. It is a concept the pharmaceutical community has known for a long time. In the 1960s, the pharmaceutical industry rolled out a role known as the medical science liaison. Medical science liaisons are responsible for building the scientific voice for a company. They are the face of cutting edge medical science and as such play a critical role in shaping the future of treatment in the world (and especially in the age of COVID). “We are seeing a huge surge in how many individual MSLs are looking to build their networks by relying on data,” says Ariel Katz, CEO & Founder of H1, “it is extremely encouraging.” Ideally, this influx of more equipt and data savvy individuals will translate into a larger more robust understanding of how to best impact those lifesaving treatments around the world.
Thinking about some of the practical applications, we are about to enter into a time when we are both facing a global pandemic and are readily equipped to treat such a threat with a truly revolutionary vaccine. Without going into the modern miracle represented by the accomplishment of the Herculean task of creating a vaccine within the same year as the need is surfaced, this will be for nothing if the general populace is not accepting the vaccine. According to a study by Engine, 23% of people surveyed would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if one was available. This degree, where nearly a quarter of respondents are planning on remaining vulnerable to the vaccine will ultimately result in a significant continuation of the current status quo which is far from the normal.
To get past this particularly challenging moment in global history, our aim will have to be better action than those that we are engaging in today. We will need to rise above the mistrust and squabbles between the government, pharmaceutical/medical industry and general population. Our goal should be wellness, trust and unity. Our goal should be to build networks of people who know and believe in the truly groundbreaking progress that we have made around the globe. Taking a page out of the Medical Science Liaison community, we can seek to create an atmosphere focused on strong scientific foundations, and a level headed approach to building a community of valuable knowledge. Optimistically, we can make this the new normal.