Recently, I had the privilege of attending Aspen Ideas: Health 2022 Conference. Together with health workers and entrepreneurs, we celebrated the power of big ideas and elevated those leading the way to develop innovative solutions to today’s most pressing health challenges.
I was particularly inspired by Johnson & Johnson’s programming, which sought to collaborate with leaders in health innovation, elevate the challenges that nurses face as the backbone of our health system, and highlight the deeply personal way that health inequities impact us all.
Here are three learnings that I’ll be bringing with me as I work to realize Johnson & Johnson’s Purpose to positively change the trajectory of health for humanity.
1. “An investment in nursing is an investment in humanity.” - Sandra Lindsay
Nurses are the backbone of healthcare - they deliver care in every corner of every community around the world. The expertise that nurses bring to healthcare is critical to the quality of care we receive and patient outcomes. We’re now in danger of losing that expertise on a mass scale - in 2021 alone, we lost 100,000 nurses from the workforce, the majority of whom were under the age of 35. It is estimated that by 2050, we will lose two million years of nursing expertise in the United States.
It is critically important, therefore, that we focus efforts not only to attract new nurses to the workforce, but also to create safe and supportive workplaces and that we invest in solutions that put nurses at the center and allow them to do what they do best.
The good news is that there is a myriad of ideas, innovations, and opportunities to improve the experience of nurses. We can invest in high-quality simulation training, explore partnerships between health systems; government agencies; and schools of nursing to boost capacity for teaching, provide clear career paths and opportunities for continued growth, and we can work to ensure nurses have full support teams that appropriately leverage non-clinical professionals so that nurses are enabled to do what they are uniquely trained for.
Lastly, we have an opportunity to engage with diverse communities by creating pathways for more people to support health teams, provide mentorship to engage prospective nurses earlier in the pipeline, and learn from diverse leaders who can help create innovative solutions that take their communities into account.
2. Health equity must be at the core of innovation.
Another major theme that emerged over the course of the festival is the importance of applying a health equity lens to any and all health innovations. Speaking with leaders in health entrepreneurship, I heard examples of promising tech that had ultimately been stunted because equity was not adequately considered from the start. Take for example artificial intelligence and facial recognition software developed to take patient vitals and help to inform diagnoses. If the data the tech is based on is unrepresentative, it will not be nearly as effective. This also comes into play in the design of a solution. Is the platform optimized for the population that could benefit most? Or are “likely adopters” prioritized with equity applied as an afterthought?
While it is key to consider equity in these initial phases so, too, is it essential to factor in when innovations are iterated upon. Iterations can fill data gaps, lead to optimizations, pivots and new community-based applications.
Many sessions and conversations highlighted disconnections and missed opportunities, but I left them feeling invigorated, not discouraged. The potential is ripe, and the groundswell is growing for equity-based health innovations that could improve healthcare for all.
3. The health system is complex, but the way it impacts us is deeply personal. The best solutions take that into consideration.
Rounding out our programming at Aspen was the Point of Care evening of storytelling. I had the privilege of speaking alongside six health workers and health entrepreneurs who shared deeply personal stories of their experiences within the health system.
We heard from an entrepreneur who, after witnessing how difficult it was for her diabetic grandmother to seek transportation to receive care, created a platform to help healthcare providers facilitate special-needs transportation for patients to and from their medical appointments; we heard from a nurse working on innovative community-based programs for under-resourced populations after realizing that the one-size-fits-all care model wasn’t working for her patient; and we heard from a physician who works with health workers and providers to help them understand bias and social determinants of health to improve patient outcomes in diverse communities.
The challenges that these emerging giants of health are tackling are not simple. They stem from deeply inequitable structures and a health system that wasn’t built with people who look like them in mind. Their powerful stories are fueling the many innovative enterprises we, at Johnson & Johnson, have the privilege of supporting. Again, I left this evening full of hope and humbled by the amazingly innovative health workers, advocates, and entrepreneurs that we have the privilege of working with.
My time at Aspen is also coming on the heels of J&J’s internal Our Race to Health Equity Summit, where thousands of J&J employees gathered to collaborate on J&J’s commitment to help close the racial health gap so that the color of your skin does not determine your access to care, quality of care or health outcomes. The enthusiasm and thoughtfulness with which our employees are tackling this critical issue, along with the passion and innovation demonstrated by those at Aspen give me no doubt that working together, we can improve the future of human health for everyone, everywhere.