Posts Tagged ‘science’

TEDMED: What you see is what you get

After having time to reflect on everything I saw and learned at TEDMED 2014, I keep coming back to an idea that was planted in my brain during the conference: Your personal perspective is going to shape what you take away from TEDMED.

photoMaybe that seems obvious. I’d certainly be curious to hear what other delegates think. But in the work I do around healthcare, my primary focus is people — helping them be more engaged in their own care through education and activism. And the theme that kept resonating for me at TEDMED, over and over, was humanity.

Of course, I was impressed by the high-tech solutions and innovations I learned about. When it comes to enhancing the healthcare experience for people, the possibilities are limitless. But technology will only get you so far. True innovation still requires a human touch — improving the way physicians and patients interact with each other, finding strategies that truly center care around patients and their loved ones.

I was constantly reminded of how exploring our own humanity can open the doors of possibility and improve the way we approach healthcare.

There was Danielle Ofri, an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital, who bravely shared her personal story of unintentionally endangering a patient’s life as a way to underscore the vital importance of reducing preventable medical errors. The way to do that, she said, is to create an environment where physicians are encouraged to admit their vulnerability and humility, to say “I don’t know.” Because if care providers never admit their uncertainty or their mistakes, how can the profession ever develop ways to reduce those errors?

Elizabeth Nabel, the President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, talked about humility, too, and emphasizing the need to ask “What if?” and admit what we don’t know in order to drive change and improvements in our healthcare system.

Not everyone on the TEDMED stage was a healthcare professional. One of the talks that resonated with me the most was 16-year-old Rosie King, who spoke about her own autism and how she sees it as an opportunity to lead an imaginative life instead of one in which she is identified by a label. She reminded us that we must put the person first.

photo 3Time and time again, speakers underscored the vital need to recognize the humanity in healthcare — as did the people I spoke with between sessions, like Mark Hyman, who advocates personalized care through Functional Medicine.

Kitra Cahana, a photographer who documented her father’s determination to regain his abilities after a debilitating stroke, a powerful testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Elizabeth Kenny, who shared her horrifying personal experience with anti-depressants, which made her much sicker than any disease did. “This talk is only 12 minutes long,” she said. “Most patients don’t get to spend 12 minutes with their primary care physician.”

Leana Wen, an emergency medicine physician whose “Who’s My Doctor” initiative is encouraging complete transparency from doctors so patients can make informed decisions about who will be caring for them. Her idea of radical transparency isn’t exactly popular with some doctors, but it puts the power of decision-making in patients’ hands.

Julian Treasure, Mariana Figueiro and Robin Guenther, who spoke about the impact of sound, light and environment on the patient experience and, in particular, healing. It’s been said that hospitals are the worst place to get rest and recover, because of all the noise and light, not to mention the toxic materials and chemicals that are still used too often. These experts are working to create care environments that promote better health.

There was so much more, and you can read some of my initial thoughts in a Storify I created right after the conference.

But on reflection, my initial gut response to TEDMED 2014 has proven correct.

Because TEDMED is all about sparking our imaginations and drawing conclusions that lead to new ideas, I can’t help thinking about a production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George that I saw a few days after TEDMED.

SundayThis imagined story behind Georges Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” is all about connecting the dots, about finding the humanity in whatever passion drives us, about not being so caught up in the work that we forget to experience life all around us.

Our work is a collection of everything we’ve experienced — of everything that matters to us at the human level. I know that my TEDMED 2014 experience was shaped by the issues that matter most to me.

Although there’s a lot we don’t know about Georges Seurat, there’s no question he saw the world in a singular, innovative way.

We all have the power to shape the world with our own unique view. So as I move forward from TEDMED, I’m left with a new appreciation for the closing line of Sunday in the Park with George, written to describe Seurat:

“White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.”


[Photo credits, top to bottom: TEDMED theatre entrance in DC by Amy Lynn Smith; selfie with Dr. Mark Hyman; Seurat painting photo by Plum Leaves via Flickr.]

TEDMED: What’s next?

The first day of TEDMED was one week ago today. While everything I learned there is still simmering in my brain, I’m already thinking: what’s next?

TEDMED places its focus squarely on that question, while exploring how we got where we are and how that propels us forward. But, feeling a bit like I just came home from the best, most brilliant summer camp ever, I can’t help but wonder what lies ahead for each of us. The presenters, the delegates like me who attended, and the work we do in the world outside TEDMED.


This idea was amplified by an excellent post by Juliet Rogers, President & CEO of Blue Cottage Consulting. It beautifully expresses how TEDMED gets inside our bones if we let it — something I willed myself to be open to before I even arrived.

Over the course of the week, I found myself making connections in my brain between something I’d seen onstage and something unrelated I chatted with a fellow delegate about during a break. I also discovered the “unexpected connections” TEDMED heralds, finding surprising links between seemingly unrelated presentations.

For example, the work of Eli Beer, Founder and President of United Hatzalah, which mobilizes trained volunteers to help save lives in medical emergencies, might seem on the opposite end of the spectrum from the work of Michael Hebb, a leader in staging themed dinners, with his latest project bringing together people to talk about death and how they want the end of their life to be. But both these concepts revere and celebrate life, using innovative grassroots approaches to create new ways of looking at — and contributing to — the world. Their imagination and passion is changing how we address life and death.

Or consider the seemingly unlikely connection between Richard Simmons and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. But on the first day of the session, Benjamin talked of bringing joy back into physical activity. A couple of days later, Simmons emulated that with his inimitable exuberance. I danced with them both onstage as the entire conference found the joy in getting moving.

Future of HealthOver the course of the conference, I found myself continually connecting the dots, just as TEDMED Curator Jay Walker helped us see connections between ancient books about science and ultra-modern medicine. I’m still uncovering new connections as I reflect on the week and dig deeper into the work of the presenters and delegates. It’s a scientific fact that learning creates new connections in the brain, so it’s fair to say that TEDMED will change how each of us sees the world.

Because I’m the only one of me that exists, I drew connections in my mind that perhaps no one else will. It’s true of everyone who was there. It’s true about the innovators onstage and those of us in the audience who came as delegates because of our passions, our curiosity, our dreams of doing big things.

While we were there, the seeds of new ideas were being germinated, scattering through the conference as we made connections. Who knows how they’ll blossom or when?

FlowersBack to Juliet Rogers. We have a mutual friend and had spoken many times, but the first time we met was at TEDMED. We forged an instant friendship, finding a comfortable connection from the start. But what’s even more remarkable is that I had the same experience with other delegates I met.

More than once, there was this feeling we’d met before. Or we discovered common threads not just in our networks but in our thinking. Not every conference creates the opportunity to chat with a Tony Award-nominated actress or hug a game-changing doctor within minutes of meeting.

We can’t be sure yet what these connections mean or where they’ll lead. But there’s one thing I’m certain of: The connections we made with each other are as powerful as the connections we made in our brains. We’re a community of unique, dedicated, inquisitive individuals. There’s no telling what we’ll do next. And I can’t wait to find out.

TEDMED: Experiencing Transformation

TEDMED is, I’m realizing, much more than a meeting of the minds. It’s a place where transformation happens on the spot — where the very experience of being surrounded by so much passion, innovation and creativity transforms you.

Resistance is futile. And, really, why would anyone want to resist? I certainly don’t. I’m pretty sure many of my fellow delegates feel the same way

Some of them, like me, are in active pursuit of transformation. We’re expanding our careers and dreams in new directions, and came to see what insights we could absorb. Others may have come for different reasons, but many seem to be experiencing transformation anyway

20130418-221528.jpgHonestly, it’s nearly impossible to resist the pull of the transformational gravity in the room. Nearly every presenter is sharing an experience of their own transformation, whether it already happened or it’s in process.

Over the last two days, I’ve had the honor of witnessing some remarkable storytelling from the stage, told in words and music and dance. Stories of healthcare, of science, of innovation. Stories of sickness and health, of life and death.

Stories like the one told by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who transformed his city from one of the country’s most obese to one of the most fit, simply by starting a conversation about it with citizens.

Stories of similar community engagement, like the one created by Keep Growing Detroit, which is transforming abandoned open spaces into urban gardens — making citizens healthier and inspiring them to take action in other ways to make Detroit stronger.

Stories of innovators like Jonathan Bush of athenahealth, Zubin Damania, MD, of Downtown Project Las Vegas, and Sally Okun, RN, of PatientsLikeMe, who are transforming healthcare by reinvigorating its humanity, each in their own way and with their own passions.

So many of the presenters’ stories are personal and often visceral.

Gary Slutkin, MD, of Cure Violence, believes that violence is an epidemic — and it can be cured using the same approaches used to cure epidemic disease. It’s working, which is a powerful message in the week of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Senate’s inaction on gun violence.

Peter Attia, MD, tearfully admitted his regret over judging a patient for her obesity, which prompted him to ask new questions about the real causes of obesity that may ultimately lead to new revelations about treatment.

Salvatore Iaconesi, a poet, exuberantly shared how he turned his brain cancer diagnosis into an open-source online community of creative inspiration and knowledge — and is living, cancer-free, to tell the tale.

Andrew Solomon told revelatory stories of people whose identities aren’t defined by their illness — giving us a moving reminder that sometimes, the most powerful possible cure is love.

And Amanda Bennett, who eloquently shared the story of her husband’s life and his death from cancer. “We never said goodbye,” she said, “because we never gave up hope.”


Every presenter was inspiring, from the experts talking about how mobile technology will help us reach, communicate with and treat more patients to the artists whose talents expressed truths about the human condition.

The dance troupe that translates how cells move within the body into physical movement to aid researchers. The tap-dancing duo who helped us understand how our brains experience sound. The opera singer who has had two double lung transplants, but never stopped singing even though she had to learn how to breathe all over again.

Tomorrow’s the last day of TEDMED, and I’m going to miss being with this remarkable community. I’m sure I’ll be processing everything I’ve learned for weeks and months to come. But there are two things I’m sure of.

Opportunities for transformation are always in front of us, whether we seek them or not. And, no matter what, we should always hold on to hope.


Learn more about the TEDMED 2013 presenters and their work here.

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