In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought enormous upheaval into our lives, and as we spent another year navigating public health mandates and personal risk, many of us began to understand that health is collective and individualized. The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is a testament to how revolutionary our health care system can be, but the disparities are more apparent than ever.
"As important as it was for everyone to gain this protection against COVID-19, it also made people in the U.S. a lot more aware of the state of public health in this country," says Abbey Stone, executive editor of Well + Good. "I think it made people aware of how lacking this public health infrastructure is."
In the latest episode of the Well + Good Podcast, our general manager, Kate Spies, chats with Stone, deputy editor of editorial Samantha Leal, and health director Patia Braithwaite about how gaps in our infrastructure have made way for health innovations that will increase access to quality care in 2022.
Geography has long been a barrier to receiving care—limiting access to those who have the means to see a provider—but telehealth has helped bridge the gap, Stone says. Health care companies are moving toward value-based models of care that "meet people where they are" to provide more affordable services, Stone says. In 2022, healthcare providers like Tia and One Medical will continue to use hybrid models, embracing both telehealth and in-person care, to expand access to underserved populations, Stone says.
Telehealth has also assisted the fight for abortion access. This year, Texas's Senate Bill 8 effectively banned abortions after six weeks in the state. And in December, the Supreme Court heard arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case attempting to ban abortion after fifteen weeks. "These high profile cases have pushed efforts to broaden access to abortion medication—and abortion access—to the forefront," says Braithwaite, adding that telehealth services have made mail-in medical abortions more accessible during the pandemic. In 2022, medication abortion startups and organizations, like Aid Access and Abortion On Demand, will continue to expand into eligible states so that acquiring medication abortion will be easier for those who need it.
This year also saw significant advancements in how people approach their mental health. Alternative mental health treatments involving psychedelics have come to the forefront, Leal says. In July, U.S. representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez introduced an amendment to promote research into psychedelics' medical benefits (it did not pass). Oregon was the first state to legalize psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms) for supervised mental health treatment. These developments mark a change in overall public sentiment, and 2022 will likely bring more state legalization of psychedelics.
Another exciting trend that will play out in 2022? The destigmatization of menopause. Traditionally, public menopause discussions involve jokes about hot flashes on sitcoms; however, Generation X, who fall between the ages of 41 and 56, are taking the shame out of the conversation. The menopause industry is valued at $600 billion, and companies like Stacy London's State Of are creating products to meet the needs of people facing menopause, Stone says.
"I am incredibly grateful for Gen X because I think at every stage of reproductive and hormonal cycles, they have said, this isn't good enough," says Spies. "They have been the people who have fought for destigmatization of abortion and better awareness of miscarriage, better awareness around infertility."
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