E-mail from TEDMED

It’s the kind of event where you might find yourself (as I did) seated between the Surgeon General and a Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, with a singer/actor/model type across the table. Yet somehow, everyone finds common ground.

Once again, a who’s who of people descended on San Diego for TEDMED – three days packed with smart, provocative folks discussing how Technology, Entertainment, and Design play out in the healthcare field.

We’ve been attending TEDMED for a few years now, and this one might just be the best we’ve seen yet. From my perspective – an engineer at heart who’s devoted the past twelve years to growing a healthcare technology and communications company – TEDMED boiled down to this: the challenge of managing a range of increasingly complex systems, the need for collaboration, and a clear call to action to effect change.

We’re not kidding when we talk about complexity. A few highlights:  Dean Kamen (one of my  former bosses and current mentors) of Deka Research &  Development and David Agus of the University of Southern  California made their respective calls for a more responsive  regulatory environment in the face of more complex and sophisticated medical breakthroughs, as well as an approach for documenting  the social cost of not approving them.  Eric Schadt of Mount Sinai School of Medicine described the dizzying complexity of genetics the way an engineer might model a network – think of a GPS for your DNA – helping even those (like  me) who can’t grasp the genetic system understand how it works and how personalized medicines interact with  it.

Lee Stein of Prize Capital told his story of navigating the complexity of his son’s mysterious health condition – and the crack team he assembled to help (creating a new form of high resolution medical imaging in the process). And of course, architect and designer Michael Graves shared his first-hand account of the epic fail he experienced when trying to navigate “universal design” principles as a wheelchair-bound patient.

And speaking of navigating systems, Aneesh Chopra, our nation’s CTO, and Farzad Mostashari of the Department of Health and Human Services convincingly made their case for data transparency as a way to address our country’s healthcare challenges.  It’s a concept that especially strikes a chord with us. As we presented at the HHS-sponsored Health Data Initiative back in June, we believe there’s a lot of value in combining private data sets, like the ones Eliza builds and maintains through the interactions we have with people about their health, and public data sets that the government maintains. We were glad to see them push this collaboration from the stage.

In fact, collaboration was a huge theme throughout the event, both in content and in conference design.  Conference organizers Marc Hodosh and Jay Walker announced their plans for an April conference in Washington, D.C., at which attendees will organize into something like mini task forces, bringing diverse talents to work to solve the healthcare industry’s nagging, systematic problems. And then report back.

It’s a refreshing call to action for TEDMED – this isn’t simply a junket for celebrity spotting, or a venue to find funding for your Next Big Idea. It’s a time to roll up our sleeves and implement our big ideas together.

Last year, my Eliza co-founder and president Alexandra Drane shared a personal experience she had (which prompted her to start a non-profit movement called Engage With Grace) on the TEDMED stage, and called on the incredible influence of this audience to change how we all think and talk about our dying wishes with our families and loved ones.  We were glad to see more speakers ask more of this powerful, fired-up audience.

So while it’s back to the office for now, we’ll be thinking about – and acting on – the ideas we heard at TEDMED.

Lucas Merrow is CEO and co-founder of Eliza Corporation. He has  twenty years of experience in technology and business development in healthcare with a focus on new ideas, new ventures, and innovation.


1 reply »