The sheer number of patients with coronavirus has shone a spotlight on overwrought medical staff and facilities worldwide. On International Self-Care Day, Carol-Ann Stewart, Head of Consumer Healthcare for Latin America, shows how individuals’ shifting attitudes to managing their own healthcare without the immediate support of a healthcare provider during the pandemic might prove to be a silver lining for national healthcare systems in the future.
What impact has COVID-19 had on people’s attitudes to self-care?
There has been a global trend towards wellness for some time now, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated it. Defensive wellness is growing exponentially with people trying to protect their own health and that of their families, so there has been a shift in attitudes in how people are practicing self-care, especially as face-to-face consultations with doctors are now more difficult.
The self-care message before the pandemic was generally a positive one, often communicated by images of people doing yoga poses against sunrises and drinking kale smoothies.
Today, the message is different. The virus has brought with it fear, which is a powerful motivator that could accelerate the shift to preventative wellness. It has put a different perspective on the real importance of self-care, because the people who are most likely to die from COVID-19 disease are those with co-morbidities or pre-existing health conditions.
What behavior changes are noticeable?
Before COVID-19, e-commerce was steadily growing for over-the-counter products, but in the past months it has increased dramatically, as people look for safe and convenient ways to shop. Independent, local pharmacists are also seeing an increase in customers as people are shopping closer to home, which for many has also become their workplace.
With the pandemic, we’ve already seen a global adoption of new habits to prevent the disease— wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and quarantining—which shows that people can take charge and modify their behavior to prevent disease, but the motivator is a threat rather than a promise of good health.
Will these new behaviors play into efforts to build sustainable healthcare systems in the future?
I hope that this could be a positive outcome from the coronavirus crisis, that self-care is seen as part of an integrated end-to-end healthcare approach for societies worldwide, a goal that the World Health Organization is already advocating.
If more patients looked after or maintained their health themselves and treated minor ailments at home, the time and money saved would allow institutions and specialists to focus on more serious conditions; a win-win for consumers, doctors, and governments.
COVID-19 has highlighted the burden on healthcare systems, but this is by no means a new problem—there will be an estimated shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030.1
If we can integrate self-care into the end-to-end thinking as part of the care treatment, everyone will benefit. I really hope COVID-19 can drive this change.