No B for Boring at TEDMED – A Force in The Healthcare Evolution

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TEDMED 2013 was brilliant: professional and fascinating from all angles. It felt like your soul was being carried through a whirlwind of constant inspiration. The 7am- 11pm program was overwhelming at times, but was sculpted in way to make you feel like you were sliding along through a mental and physical schlaraffenland, while being served “food for thought” by the best minds from all industries. Entertainment wasn’t lacking either, being amused by cutting-edge entertainers and physically invigorated by health gurus like Dean Karnazes and Bhavani Maki for a 7am run and yoga session. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts proved to be the perfect location to host the 4-day program. The days seemed to pour into each other while the topic of healthcare fused with ideas from art, philosophy, psychology and many other areas. The cross-specialty approach to medicine really proved to be the main focus at TEDMED, by creating an entire new discipline in itself. The experience was mind-boggling and, in a way, resembled a scientific process: mixing unknown ingredients that finally crystallize into something completely new.

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Over 1,800 multidisciplinary leaders and delegates from 31 countries attended the event in Washington, DC. On top of that, over 100,000+ people viewed and participated via 2,700 TEDMED live simulcasts in 81 countries across the globe. This year, TEDMED featured 65 speakers and performers, making it one of the most renowned medical shows worldwide.

It’s impossible to depict the entire journey and everything that TEDMED had to offer. We do however want to leave you with some highlights:

Day 1

On day one, the ‘out-of-the-box’ tune was aptly set by diving straight into talks by designer John Maeda and by Rafeal Yuste, the originator of the Brain Activity Map (BAM). Maeda encourages us to “bring creativity back into our lives and make it a leadership skill.” For him, the answer to today’s challenges in healthcare is art; not necessarily applying creativity in the middle of a medical procedure, but rather breaking tradition and approaching problems with creative strategies. “Art and design can help us thrive.” Rafael Yuste gave an inspiring talk about the challenges and rewards of science. He compared his two passions: science and mountaineering. As he looked at scientific mountains to climb, mapping the brain seemed like the “Everest” standing before science, and thus emerged the idea of the BAM project as the next challenge of the 21st century. In his view, the role of science in our society is moving knowledge forward, improving science as a business and building creativity. “Science has so many problems to solve, we can’t afford to dream small dreams.”

Day 2

Zubin Damania (a.k.a. ZDoggMD), voiced his plans to create new models of primary health care. By using satire to get physicians out of their zombie rut, he encourages changes in medical culture through a humoristic approach. Zubin found an effective strategy to get the right type of message through to people in different ways, which resonated with millions of views on YouTube.

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Peter Attia, a physician who gave an emotional revue of his career, closed the day with an amazing talk. Two very interesting points dominated Attia’s talk: challenging existing medical dogmas and examining physicians’ cognitive biases towards patients; all in regards to the obesity crisis. Both are very relevant in the modern medical world. His examples point to a physician’s judgment of patients when it comes to obesity and how this judgment can even spill over into our medical beliefs. People eat too much and become obese. Obesity causes diabetes. Peter is questioning this assumption. Peter actually welled up in his talk, which was important for the conference and again reflected a recurring theme: physicians do have emotions.

Day 3

Sue Austin, an artist who performs underwater in her scuba wheelchair, began her talk by claiming to be the most mobile person at TEDMED. Sue is paralyzed from the waist down. By starting off this way, she inspired us to always go beyond our perceived limitations, highlighting that we should never assume a person’s state of mind through his or her physical appearance.

Richard Simmons, the American Fitness legend, gave an entertaining edge to the show by making the audience hug each other. The braver attendees even got on the stage to dance. His advice to physicians was to hug their patients.

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To conclude the day, Andrew Solomon offered his ideas on the merging of illness, identity, and relationships, and clearly stated his opinion on how relationships are detrimental in relation to how we deal with illness. He asked the question: “What is it that we need to cure?” What was once viewed irrefutably as disease is now accepted as part of an individual’s identity. Examples include homosexuality, deafness and dwarfism. Today, these are no longer perceived as diseases. They are subcultures and this aspect hence requires us to contemplate what it would mean to “cure” a culture.

Day 4

Day 4 closed with a spot-on summary from TEDMED’s Curator Jay Walker, who managed to lead seamless discussions through the whopping 4-day program. His ability to turn a conference into a story and make us feel open up to difficult topics is grand. All the talks will be available for viewing here.

Here are the main takeaways from the four days worth of incredible talks:

  • Be courageous and creative – The medical field lacks creativity for obvious reasons. However, daring leaders in all fields are applying creative methods in order to achieve greatness and mass impact.
  • Medical culture is changing – Medical taboos are slowly emerging and starting to be discussed by forward thinkers. Topics like medical errors and the need for better collaboration between different disciplines were flowing through the audience and speakers’ conversations.
  • Empathy and humility – It’s not easy to be a physician. Doctors are often expected to be super human, which can lead to stress and emotional shortcomings. What we shouldn’t forget is that showing empathy and connecting with patients really does help ameliorate these types of situations. These concepts are starting to be slowly incorporated into medical education, inspired by dialogue with thinkers from other fields and endorsed by enlightened physicians.
  • Rethinking science and challenging dogma – Nothing is certain in science, and taking a step back can open amazing new doors. We might think a medical method works, but if we look at it from a different angle we may find ways to make it work even better, as the human body is complex and full of surprises.
  • Relax and enjoy the ride – We at MedCrunch interviewed many speakers, focusing on providing advice to young physicians embarking on medical careers. The message was clear: it may be hard at times, but being a physician is one of the most wonderful and exciting professions. It may be daunting at times, but great rewards always lie ahead.

At the start of the fourth day, Pritpal Tambeer, one of the editors, reminded the audience that “if you feel surprised by the program, please remember the E in TED. It stands for Entertainment.” TEDMED has managed, once again, to strike a perfect balance of information and entertainment. The program has enriched many of us, both on an intellectual and emotional level. Those two things combined form the greatest recipe for learning. The conference was moving, eye opening, and even funny at times. Entertainment aside, the whole experience makes you want to jump out of your seat and realize your dreams.

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Based in Vienna, Anna graduated from Leeds University in 2004 in Politics and French Literature. She then founded a magazine featuring young artists, designers and photographers working in Austria and Eastern Europe. In 2005, Anna moved to London where she spent six years at Google working across several departments, most recently in Sales. In the past year, Anna worked as an interim executive at TV1, an independent news station in Bosnia. She is passionate about investigative, in-depth journalism that exposes problems, illuminates issues and provides practical or philosophical solutions to readers. Anna is a lover of science and is always seeking to learn more about our universe. She also loves cooking and traveling.