Back for Day 2 of TEDMED. We spent some time this morning checking out the different spaces and conversation starters around the event. The TEDMED Bookstore, powered by Politics and Prose, is home to a number of texts by present and past TED and TEDMED speakers. Throughout the event, speakers have been popping up in the Bookstore and graciously spending time there for personal book signings. Over in the Hive, the Campfire is a semi-enclosed space with thoughtful prompts meant to motivate intimate conversations isolated from the hustle and bustle of TEDMED. Also in the Hive is the Imagination Wall on which a skilled artist has been creating succinct yet compelling graphics to inspire imagination throughout the event. While not highlighted in a specific space this year, TEDMED’s Great Challenges, an ongoing, multidisciplinary dialogue around complex, nuanced issues has been referenced by much of the text and content at the event. The Great Challenges provide an opportunity for anyone to get engaged in TEDMED throughout the year through dialogues, virtual hangouts, and other opportunities to interact with like-minded thinkers around twenty of the biggest needs facing the world today, such as reducing childhood obesity and the impact of poverty on health.
The first session of the day brought a new host, Sandeep “Sunny” Kishore, a physician and global activist who gave a previous talk at TEDMED 2012. Titled “Stealing Smart,” this session focused on examples of solutions adopted from outside the domain where they originate. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a UCLA Medical School cardiology professor also known as the Zoobiquitous Physician, drew comparisons of mental health between animal and human care. For example, post partum depression and psychosis affects multiple species, but while animals that reject their young are successfully treated with oxytocin, humans with the same condition use antidepressants and hormone therapies. Barbara’s examples revealed the sometimes narrow scope of solutions we still find in modern medicine. Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy Ramanan Laxminarayan followed by discussing the need for conserving antibiotics with strategic targeting of high risk areas to normalize access amongst rural and urban populations. We had a chance to see some of the Hive tech on stage with a short talk from ActiveProtect’s CEO Drew Lakatos. Stay tuned for our TEDMED Hive Highlights to learn more about about how ActiveProtect technology translates car safety to fall prevention technology for elderly patients.
TEDMED has a knack for combining great speakers with great entertainers. World class trumpeter Dominick Farinacci regaled us with a couple upbeat jazz pieces he wrote as a counterpoint to the darkness and confusion of his mother’s fight with cancer. She is now in remission and was there to witness the performance.
Nora Volkow and Leslie Morgan Steiner concluded the session with talks on obesity and infertility. Nora spoke of how obesity is an addiction tied to environmental factors rather than biology. Nora believes the cure to obesity isn’t a matter of not knowing the science, it’s a matter of committing resources to provide food that’s healthy, appealing, and affordable, as well as designing environments that promote rather than hinder physical activity. Leslie walked us through the struggles of a family coping with infertility, and an American surrogacy system limited by legal and financial constraints such as a $100,00 price tag that is not covered by insurance, even though infertility is considered a disease. Leslie explained how the family found a solution in the international surrogacy community and now have three children, all from an Indian surrogate.
Nassim Assefi returned to host the provocative second session of the day aptly titled “Don’t You Dare Talk About This.” The first topic of discomfort was organ transplantion with lawyer and bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere whose work has documented the kidney donation system in Iran. Sigrid identified the challenges facing the US transplant system including financial barriers preventing donors from making their organs available. Sigrid explained that what Iran does differently, and well, is to remove the incentives for an active black market through NGO management of the transplant system, as well as financial, health insurance, and goods incentives for donors. With an existing list of patients waiting for organs, Sigrid proposed the adoption in the US of an incentivized organ donor list.
From organs to drug addiction, our next speaker was Carl Hart, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Columbia University. Carl began with an unconventional claim that 80-90% of people who use illegal drugs do not have a drug problem or addiction. His scientific support showed that over half of human marijuana and methamphetamine addicts preferentially selected a positive alternative to their drug and were more likely to do so the more positive the alternative. Carl also lamented the societal and racial discrimination associated with addiction. Carl’s proposal for change called for a decriminalization of all drugs in the US, and public policy based on scientific rather than societal evidence.
Next, the Army Surgeon General Patricia Horoho discussed in broad strokes the sins of commission and omission associated with medical errors and malpractice. Putting the numbers in perspective, the Surgeon General claimed that the annual number of deaths from medical errors in the US would fill Arlington National Cemetery. Bringing a lighter tone to the session, actor and playwright Elizabeth Kenny performed an excerpt from her play, Sick. Elizabeth’s play is inspired by her own experience with an iatrogenic condition that led to a number of frustrating years navigating the healthcare system. Elizabeth was followed by Leana Wen, an emergency medicine physician and Director of Patient-Centered Research at George Washington University. Leana told of her growth during medical school and residency and her recognition of the challenges of transparency that still plague medicine. In one of the more powerful closings to a talk we’ve heard yet, Leana invited physicians in the audience to join her in making a pledge to medical transparency in the Total Transparency Manifesto.
The last session of the day, hosted by David Sengeh, “Play is Not a Waste of Time,” promised to be an engaging exploration of how imagination and fun play important roles in health and medicine. Jill Vialet kicked the session with an anecdote conveying the value of encouraging students to engage with their peers through sports. Jill’s message to the delegates was that play provides an important opportunity to see other people, and in return, be seen by them.
Next up was Cole Galloway, Director of the Pediatric Mobility Lab and Design Studio at the University of Delaware. Cole delved into his studio’s “go tech” innovations that combine high and low tech components like PVC pipes, pool toys, and electronic control systems to make toys used by babies and children struggling with mobility. Carla Pugh, Director of the Health Clinical Stimulation Program at the University of Wisconsin, discussed the importance of teaching haptic skills as part of standard medical education. Carla also gave some examples of how her program is developing new haptic tools from atypical materials like badminton birdies. Our last speaker of the day, Kayt Sukel, is the author of “This is Your Brain on Sex.” Kayt spoke about how what we perceive as risk-taking, like learning a language or sky-diving, is really just the adult version of play. With the knowledge that brains exhibit plasticity throughout the entirety of life, not just childhood, she argued that even adults should engage in activities that provide the enjoyable, beneficial outcomes of play. A musical performance by Gerardo Contino concluded Day 2 by getting the TEDMED auditorium on their feet and clapping along to the Cuban tunes.
All images thanks to TEDMED.