As I’m typing this, TEDMED 2014 is wrapping up. Most of us are familiar with TED, if nothing else via the occasional TED Talk that goes viral on social media. But building on TED’s tagline, “ideas worth spreading,” TEDMED describes itself as “a global community dedicated to unlocking imagination in service of health and medicine. Our goal is to seed the innovations of today, making possible the breakthroughs of tomorrow…for a healthier, more vibrant humanity.” And while TEDMED exists year round as an online community, the annual conference is what they are most well known for.
This year the conference was held simultaneously in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, with each venue hosting speakers in turn. Both Stanford and The University of California at San Francisco sponsored the event, which was simulcast not only between D.C. and San Francisco but all over the world. You can check out the talks here.
So, why are we bringing this up here on eQuoteMD? No we’re not sponsors for TEDMED—this isn’t an advertisement. In fact I’ll go so far as to agree with a common criticism of the TED Talk format. There is a tendency to think that if we can inspire an audience we can solve the world’s problems. Because we feel inspired, amazed, hopeful after listening to a speaker lay out a vision for a different future, a grand new innovation, or a provocative new perspective does not mean we are more than a small step closer to real change. After all, a preacher with a fine set of rhetorical skills can make people think and feel all kinds of things without necessarily changing the community. It takes more than a sermon. And indeed, sometimes these TED Talks have an almost sermonic feel to them. I’ve seen them described as sermons for a modern secular pluralist world. Scientific sermons… or in this case medical sermons.
But do we have to be so cynical? For all the pomposity that occasionally attends this type of venue, (the videos are tagged with words like “inspiring” and “astonishing,” though we must give them credit, they held off on “revolutionary!”), there is something fundamentally valuable about bringing people together to share ideas. This is something we’ve been doing since Greek and Roman times—think of Mars Hill and the Agora of Athens. And there is nothing wrong with feeling inspired when you listen to someone talk enthusiastically about what they are passionate about. Enthusiasm is contagious. It’s the natural and healthy reaction, particularly if the person is articulate and intelligent. I think there is a certain sort of vibrancy that comes from regularly attending to not just the current academic literature, but the kinds of things other people in your field are dreaming and scheming about—the things that people are trying to reimagine or reinvent.
I was particularly interested to browse through this year’s talks to see what kinds of topics came up the most. I was pleased to see that many of the topics that were revisited over and over again are some of the same topics we’ve been discussing here at eQuoteMD. I hope that’s a sign that we’ve got a good handle on what you all are thinking about and wanting to hear more about. Topics like telemedicine and technology, medical records and digital data management, dealing with doctor shortages, burnout, and the future of the medical field dominated the talks. Other subjects that came up repeatedly were treatment of cancer and terminal illness, treating obesity, the coming population shift toward seniors and what it means for medicine, and the role of non-traditional therapies in the treatment of patients.
As with anything, some of the talks will certainly prove better than others, and no doubt a few speakers will take themselves just a bit too seriously, or think their contribution a bit more important than it probably is. But likewise many of them probably will be provocative or inspiring. Maybe they’ll serve as fuel to let your mind wander or consider something new or interesting for a few minutes over lunch. Check them out and let us know what you think, especially if you come across a topic you’d like to hear more from us on. In the meantime here’s one to start you off that I thought was interesting.