This is an inter-university cluster project between the University of Vienna (Department of English and American Studies) and the Medical University of Vienna (Department of Health Economics).
The recent, on-going SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has had devastating impacts on healthcare systems, economies, and communities worldwide. In fact, as Alicia Fernandez, an expert in health and healthcare disparities, argues, “[t]here are three coexisting pandemics: COVID-19, poverty, and fear” (qtd. in Frieden 2020). The close intertwining of these three parallel developments – (1) the effects of the virus on individual health and healthcare systems, (2) the concomitant exacerbation of individual socio-economic status, and (3) the global media spread of misinformation and generation of strong affects – requires interventions that go beyond standard research and translational efforts. A vaccine is no guarantee for better post-COVID-19 care. What is needed is a nuanced focus on all three of the above transformations. In light of these developments, future post-COVID-19 care will need to implement innovative strategies to narrow the gaps in the uptake of healthcare across socio-economic groups.
Our project aims to offer a first step in this direction by bringing together Medical Humanities/Cultural Studies and Health Economics. We aim to contribute to a better understanding of how translational efforts can take all of the above factors into consideration and improve post-COVID-19 care. While in a medical context, care is usually understood as the care performed by trained medical staff, in this project, we extend our understanding of care to include also self-care, i.e. “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain (mental) health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider” (WHO). Considering the COVID-19-related spread of misinformation, long-term (mental) health consequences, and differences in the type of care delivered (e.g. telehealth), it is crucial to implement innovative strategies to narrow the gaps in the uptake of healthcare across socio-economic groups through improvement of health and media literacy, education of health professionals, and concomitant dialogue with health policy makers.
Post-COVID-19 care, as we understand it, has a triple meaning: First, it refers to care after the COVID-19-outbreak, second, it takes into account patients’ experiences and third, it considers the future of (health)care in the aftermath of the pandemic. It is indispensable that the interventionist work we envision does not only target health professionals and their education but also patients and policy makers. The intertwined research strands that we propose encompass the identification of socio-economic/media literacy factors that influence the uptake of healthcare, the role of media and media literacy for health literacy, the long-term (mental) health consequences of the pandemic, and the resultant challenges of post-COVID-19 care.