It has been a busy year in 2023. Here are my seven key insights on climate, health and equity and the role of medical affairs.
Insight #1 – A paradigm shift not another priority
Climate, health and equity is not another business priority, it is a paradigm shift that will help us to be more successful to deliver against our existing priorities. Once the penny drops, triple win business opportunities start flooding in.
Three examples of this are: 1) Reducing the carbon footprint of clinical trials reduces financial costs and improves diversity through equitable access. 2) Identifying populations with unmet medical need and poor access to healthcare uncovers new business opportunities through increased market size, market share and return on investment. 3) Integrating health outcomes into climate action programs and vice versa realises benefits on outcomes for people and the planet meaning more impact for the same investment.
Insight #2 – There is a unique role for each of us
The work for each of us as individuals and as representatives of our organisations is to identify what it is that we uniquely contribute towards the challenge of climate change and its impact on health and equity, in our role as citizens and as professionals. This means deciding what we are not doing, as much as what we are. This sounds so simple, but in reality it is extremely difficult.
I recently got asked a question during a public presentation about the dangers of non-renewable minerals being depleted in order to manufacture solar energy panels. As I was someone who had deliberately got up on a stage as an “expert” in climate change, I could have felt ashamed that I did not know the answer.
Instead, I realised that although this was a critical issue, it was not an issue that I was well qualified to solve. I had to trust that other people better qualified than me were already working on it. I re-focused the conversation to the topic I had come to speak on – the impact of climate change on human health and equity, and the role of pharmaceutical physicians.
Insight #3 – Medical affairs are well placed to catalyse sustainable healthcare transformation
Medical affairs leaders act as ecosystem connecters both internally within the business and externally across the healthcare sector, and as such are well played to influence systemic change within the healthcare sector at scale.
However, systemic silos might be stopping us from finding new opportunities. Much of the work of sustainability in pharma has been conducted at a corporate level, without influencing or impacting core business operations. For environmental action commitments to be met, and for true impact, this must change. Medical affairs could be the key to unlocking this potential.
Insight #4 – Sometimes we have to slow down to speed up
Untangling complex so-called “wicked” problems like climate, health and equity sometimes means slowing down to speed to. Using systems change approaches to design effective interventions can help to make sure that the actions we take today do not have negative downstream consequences tomorrow. However, this takes time to reflect and think more deeply about the problems we are trying to solve.
A personal practice I am finding helpful is to carve out dedicated time each week for reflection and “being” rather than delivering and “doing”. Getting out into nature with my dog (beloved black Labrador called Molly!) helps me to get clear on where I need to focus.
Insight #5 – Language matters
Stepping outside the corporate environment for a while has given me an opportunity to examine the cultural language that we use, and see more clearly when that language could be counter-productive.
For example, instead of “stakeholder engagement”, perhaps we can learn how to build genuine respectful relationships. This means listening, seeking to understand, finding shared goals, being open to new ways of thinking and doing, and letting go of our own agenda in order to find an even better way forward.
Insight #6 – Solutions must cater to the minority
Centralised global strategies and interventions run the risk that they cater to the needs of the “average” person in the “average” neighbourhood. This average person is pure fiction.
Real interventions means working with real people in real communities. We have to design innovations and interventions that meet the needs of all the people we want to serve, including the most vulnerable and marginalised.
Impactful actions that drive improvements in health for populations and the planet also mean working at a grass roots level with communities and in partnership with empowered community leaders.
Insight #7 – Looking over the hill
An old mentor and boss of mine once said that medical affairs only do their job well when they are able to “look over the hill” and anticipate what is coming in the future. Doing this well meant building strategies and evidence plans that meet the needs of people living in the world we are moving towards rather than the world we currently live in.
Medical affairs engage with healthcare professionals to gather insights on a daily basis, but those insights come from people who are generally not looking over the hill. To complement these insights, medical need to build new skills in strategic foresight in order to look anticipate what is coming, identify measurable indicators of change within the healthcare sector, and get clearer on future unmet needs.
If you enjoyed reading these insights and would like to learn more, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.