The coronavirus pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in the U.S. health care system, especially laying bare inequities and inertia in American health care, explained in The Progress We Need: Ten Health Care Imperatives for the Decade Ahead from Manatt Health.

The report details the ten objectives that are central to Manatt’s health care practice, a sort of team manifesto call-to-action and North Star for the next decade.

Their ten must-do’s for bending the cost curve while driving constructive change for a better health care system are to:

  • Ensure access
  • Achieve health equity
  • Stability the safety net and rebuild public health
  • Address social determinants of health
  • Help our children achieve their potential
  • Innovate long-term care
  • Accelerate digital health
  • Advance academic medicine
  • Deliver breakthrough treatments
  • Secure health data (updating privacy/HIPAA).

These fall into several over-arching categories such as health equity (including rebuilding public health, addressing the safety net and social determinants, bolstering children’s wellbeing); innovation, from long-term care to breakthrough treatments and re-imagining academic medicine; and the tag-team of accelerating digital health and the promise of virtual health while securing citizens’ health data.

In the description of #7, Realizing the Promise of Virtual Health (in shorthand above, “Accelerating Digital Health”) Manatt includes this snippet/paragraph from the World Health Organization, spelling out digital health in a way that uncannily encompasses the team’s ten goals.

Note that WHO’s approach to digital health adoption includes equity, access, palliative care, privacy, and security.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of digital health tools and virtual health care; looking past the pandemic, the American Telemedicine Association is envisioning that care will be omni-channel just as other aspects of consumers’ lives are, whether shopping, banking, or now for people in school, education.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Everyone of Manatt Health’s ten imperatives are spot-on in this moment as we segue from Our Covid Year of 2020 to the Covid Year of 2021. Given the emergence of the virus variants emerging all over the world, we know our pandemic lifestyles, workstyles, school-styles, et al., will persist through many more months.

In our hearts and minds, our mental, emotional, and behavioral health are an epidemic within the pandemic, I’m coming to understand in terms of both my work advising the health/care ecosystem, and my own life and those of the people for whom I care.

There’s an 11th imperative I add to the ten called out here, and it’s attending to mental health with grace, public policies, and resource allocation.

Addressing mental health is, truly, embodied in every one of the ten pillars in Manatt’s imperatives:

  1. Ensuring access to both physical/medical care as well as mental health — ideally bundled into primary care
  2. Achieving health equity, bringing mental health services to all who need them, ideally at parity with physical health services
  3. Serving the safety net and rebuilding public health, recognizing that our mental health is integral to our overall health and wellbeing
  4. Addressing social determinants, where social isolation and loneliness are one powerful SDoH across ages and especially for elders (see #6)
  5. Helping our children, being mindful and attentive to younger peoples’ mental health especially exacerbated in the pandemic through isolation and lack of socialization by missing in-person school and spending 24×7 via “screens”
  6. Innovating long-term care, assuring that older peoples’ mental health are part of a 360-degree re-imagining of what aging safely and holistically at home could be
  7. Accelerating digital health, where Manatt calls out the potential for digital solutions to address mental health — especially useful in under-served areas long missing local access to therapists and behavioral health innovations
  8. Advancing Academic Medicine, ensuring that medical schools and students better integrate mental health into curricula, research, and treatment — especially powerful in managing chronic conditions complicated by anxiety and depression
  9. Delivering breakthrough treatments, with the promise of digital therapeutics and software-as-medicine, along with better mental health diagnostics available across patient populations; and,
  10. Securing health data, because the very personal nature of a health citizen’s mental health data can be used against people by third parties, whether for financial services (say, obtaining a mortgage), job application for employment, or other illegal or biased use.

The Manatt document is a wonderful example of a company’s clear articulation of values and corporate social responsibility in an era of declining trust between citizens and institutions, found in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. Kudos to Manatt for publicly outlining these ten-in-ten goals for making healthcare better. We can all learn from and share in these.