TEDMED preview_image

Innovation

TEDMED: the Meeting Point for Healthcare

TEDMED preview_image

The future of health and medicine arrives in Washington, D.C. this week, when more than 1,800 leading minds from the world of science, business, government and even art will share insights on improving people’s well-being at TEDMED.

Despite the gravity of challenges – from curing chronic disease to making healthcare more accessible – the annual event is always full of optimism that solutions will be found through innovation, discovery and, ­ most importantly, collaboration.

“TEDMED is a celebration of human achievement and was built on the belief that the future of health and medicine will be shaped by vital input from medical colleges, teaching hospitals, government agencies and other nonprofit institutions from across the world,” said Jay Walker, chairman and curator of TEDMED, in a statement.

The theme of this year’s event is, “unexpected connections can unlock new possibilities,” suggesting to delegates that much of what TEDMED has to offer will be discovered when they’re not watching speeches from their seat or yoga mat. It’s like camp for health and medicine nerds, where they can get a smartphone physical, compete in a “Mental Battle” using only brainwaves, or check out the latest commercialized technologies offered by 50 healthcare startups in a meeting point called The Hive.

Collaboration is also a theme that unifies many of the 60-plus speakers and performers that will take the stage during the next three and a half days.

Rafael Yuste exemplifies that spirit as well as anyone. The professor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Columbia University and co-director of the Kavli Foundations Institute for Neural Circuitry helped plan the brain-mapping initiative recently launched by President Barack Obama.

Named as one of the five scientists to watch in 2013 by Nature, Yuste will discuss what the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative will mean to the future of neuroscience.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, whose agency will provide $40 million to develop new tools and training opportunities for the BRAIN initiative, will also be speaking at TEDMED. He will be providing insights into the next big steps in biomedicine.

Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, takes a collaborative approach when it comes to addressing the shortcomings of the U.S. health system. The former Harvard University provost and dean of the Harvard School of Public Health has called for a “do many things” approach to making the healthcare system more efficient and sustainable.

Another renowned Harvard thinker on healthcare, economist Michael E. Porter, approaches the problem of the U.S. system from a different direction – revealing a new way of defining value of healthcare.

He recently unveiled his latest project, the Social Progress Index, which aims to be a comprehensive measurement of well-being beyond economic gains. The U.S. ranks 6th on the index overall, but 11th in terms of health and wellness.

“Social progress depends on the policy choices, investments, and implementation capabilities of multiple stakeholders – government, civil society, and business. Action needs to be catalyzed at country level,” Porter said in a release earlier this month announcing the index. “By informing and motivating those stakeholders to work together and develop a more holistic approach to development, I am confident that social progress will accelerate.”

Big Data holds promise as the key to unlocking hidden trends underlying the massive amounts of information flowing through the healthcare system, but it can only help if the data can be shared and compared. At Duke University, Amy Abernethy has implemented a new model of “learning healthcare” to improve the relationship between Big Data and patient care. As director of the new Center for Learning Health Care, the palliative care oncologist and former NASA programmer is using data to continuously drive the process of care.

Efforts to improve care are happening at the macro and micro level. Roni Zeiger recently left his position as chief health strategist at Google to help found Smart Patients, which he describes as an online network of medical “microexperts” that doctors can tap when trying to diagnose a patient’s problem.

Zeiger will be able to network with an actual group of “microexperts” when he arrives at TEDMED.