To date, in mid-2022, the United States has lost more than a million people to the COVID-19 pandemic. The American people have been real-time witnesses to scores of heroic responses to the disease, death, inequity, and economic strife unleashed by the virus, but have also experienced the consequences of poor pandemic preparedness and the consequences of long-standing and system-wide structural failures in our health system.

For decades, the U.S. health system has fallen far short of its potential to produce individual and population health. In contrast to health care spending that exceeds any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation, the U.S. experiences lower life expectancies, higher rates of death by suicide, higher chronic disease burden, higher obesity rates, and higher hospitalization rates than any of our peers. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented death and devastation – but also an unprecedented opportunity to leverage lessons learned from the pandemic and truly transform U.S. health, health care, and health delivery.

To capitalize on this opportunity, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), in tandem with the field leaders already working collaboratively through the NAM Leadership Consortium, formed teams from across all of the major health system sectors to assess the sector-specific impacts from COVID-19, the lessons learned from each sector, and the cross-cutting lessons for system-wide transformation. These lessons are presented in the new NAM Special Publication Emerging Stronger from COVID-19: Priorities for Health System Transformation.

The NAM Special Publication pulls together the nine NAM Discussion Papers comprehensively assessing the pandemic’s impact on each major health care system sector. Released as they were completed, each sector assessment provided a deep dive into the experiences of those on the front lines of responding to the pandemic, a summary of key lessons learned from those experiences, and highlights of the system-wide implications. This NAM Special Publication adds a new concluding chapter developed by the lead authors of the sector-specific papers, identifying and underscoring critical system-wide lessons common to all of the sector assessments.

The opportunity is now to capitalize on the hard-won lessons of COVID-19 and build a health care system that centers patients, families, and communities; cares for clinicians; supports care systems, public health, and biomedical research to perform as continuously learning organizations; applies innovations from digital health and quality, safety, and standards organizations; and structures incentives that facilitate the attention and actions of health care payers and health product manufacturers and innovators oriented to whole person and whole population health progress.

Release of this NAM Special Publication will be followed by special initiatives of the multiple sectors of the NAM Leadership Consortium to catalyze progress with particular emphasis on the priorities related to health financing, community and individual engagement, digital health, and accelerated evidence generation. A meeting will be scheduled by NAM in Fall 2022 to review the findings, priorities, and collaborative activities for progress.

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine; the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; and beyond. It serves alongside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as an adviser to the nation and the international community. Through its domestic and global initiatives, the NAM works to address critical issues in health, medicine, and related policy and inspire positive action across sectors. The NAM collaborates closely with its peer academies and other divisions within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The views presented in this special publication – “Emerging Stronger from COVID-19: Priorities for Health System Transformation” – are those of the authors and do not represent formal consensus positions of the NAM; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; or the authors’ organizations.

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