Speaking up for the voiceless: Q&A with Rupal Patel

Speaking at TEDMED 2014, Rupal Patel, founder of VocalID, described her work developing a technology that creates personalized, enhanced voices for the speech impaired.  We got in touch with her to learn more about what drives her work.

What advice would you give to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?

Follow your passion and choose impact above all. Everything else will follow.

What was your main source of inspiration?

Several years ago, I was at an assistive communications conference in Denmark. I had just finished giving a talk on how we each have our own unique vocal identities. As I walked into the exhibit hall, I saw a young girl and a grown man having a conversation using their devices. Different devices with the same voice. Then I noticed the same voice coming from all around me. We would never dream of fitting a little girl with the prosthetic limb of a grown man, so why give them the same prosthetic voice? That was the pivotal observation that, a few years later, resulted in a research grant aimed at creating the underlying technology behind VocaliD.

Every day, we receive stories and emails from individuals wanting their own unique vocal identities. It is within these stories and shared experiences that we draw inspiration. Every day they push us to innovate, creating personalized voices that are better than the last.  Simply put, they inspire us.

“For all the worry about how technology is depersonalizing us, here’s a way that technology can make us all a little more human. Where you can connect to yourself, and to a stranger.” - Rupal speaking at TEDMED 2014.

“For all the worry about how technology is depersonalizing us, here’s a way that technology can make us all a little more human. Where you can connect to yourself, and to a stranger.” – Rupal speaking at TEDMED 2014.

Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn from your talk?

I want voice donors to know that they don’t have to lose to gain. I want to educate the public about text-to-speech (TTS), augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), and raise awareness of various voice disorders and their causes. I want to break stereotypes and create unique vocal identities, where end users feel empowered by their voice and not afraid to use it.

What is the legacy you want your work and/or your talk to leave?

I aspire to create a technology that enables people to be heard through their own voice. When technology and humans are seamlessly integrated, there is the opportunity for a multiplier effect in terms of impact. Every voice deserves to be heard, even those who use devices to communicate. These unique vocal personas are powered not just by technology, but by everyday speech donors of all ages and backgrounds who empathize with recipients who need a voice. That’s a powerful mix of community, technology and empowerment.

Do you have a call to action for your viewers?

Sign up to be a Voice Donor and begin recording your speech at VocalID’s Voicebank! You can also check out, donate and spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign. Through this crowdfunding campaign, you can help us in our mission to ensure that everyone has a unique voice.

Music as Medicine: Q&A with Gypsy Sound Revolution

Gypsy Sound Revolution, led by drummer Cédric Leonardi and fellow Gipsy Kings alumni, mixes rumba with Indian raga. They play a unique fusion of Indo-Gypsy music that is both meditative and joyful. We followed up with them to learn more about their project.

"Music is borderless. It is the ultimate expression of love." Gypsy Sound Revolution at TEDMED 2014.

“Music is borderless. It is the ultimate expression of love.” Gypsy Sound Revolution at TEDMED 2014.

 What motivated you to perform at TEDMED?

As a performer, you want to reach as many people as possible with your art form. Music is increasingly accessible digitally and also thrives using many methods of delivery.
Somewhere along the way, it became a business. A big business. Performing at TEDMED was our way of delivering a message and access to the healing power of music. Music came out of the caves of India as medicine. Invoking the divine, but with a modern vernacular, we have seen lives transformed through the joy of our music. TEDMED was a potent forum to express this and continue the medicinal conversation globally, reaching as many people as possible.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

We hope our legacy shows the way for our children to live authentic lives, fully expressed and joyful using the path we have forged with our music. To touch the hearts of people and share the joy of living together on this planet. Music is borderless. It is the ultimate expression of love.

We cherish the poem, “What will matter,” by Michael Josephson, as a reminder of the fragility of life and the speed with which it passes:

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, or days. All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame, and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.
So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.
It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.
So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage, or sacrifice that enriched, empowered, or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom, and for what.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance, but of choice. Choose to live a life that matters.

What’s next for you?

Taking our music and message around the world in 2015. We are also finally going into the studio. We are very much a live band– we believe live interaction with people is the true purpose of music. However as TEDMED live-streaming proves, there are many more people that live streaming can reach in all kinds of obscure pockets of the world. The internet has brought us all closer so its time we stopped resisting and we have started to the process with the conundrum: how do you bottle magic? We will have at least three tracks recorded soon.

Any action items for viewers interested to get involved in the kind of work you do? How do they join the revolution?

We are starting a philanthropic initiative to support the communities of our Rajasthani musicians with a US based Indian company, HP Investments. The project will include music camps for children to keep the music traditions of this original gypsy tribe alive, as well as taking care of the necessities like water and power in their villages. Its a humbling and glorious experience working with musicians who go home to their villages without water and power after they have travelled the world with us. We are one– we have a responsibility to help each other beyond.

Better Than Dr. House: Q&A with Jared Heyman

In his TEDMED talk, entrepreneur Jared Heyman revealed how crowd wisdom can help solve even the most elusive medical mysteries. We got in touch with Jared to ask about what inspired his work, and for any tips he has to share with other innovators.

Jared speaking at TEDMED 2014

Jared speaking at TEDMED 2014

Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn from it?

Hyper-specialization in medicine has created a world where no doctor can possibly know everything, yet we still hold onto the “Dr. House” archetype – the idea that a physician should be an omniscient genius who can single-handedly solve even the most challenging medical mystery. The reality is that crowds are wiser than even the smartest individual in the world, so long as the right mechanism is in place to aggregate their collective intelligence. That is the biggest takeaway from my talk.

What advice would you give to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?

We all have an inner voice that guides our life path, yet it’s often drowned out by the noise of others’ expectations of us. Take some time off to listen to that voice, whether through meditation, a weekend retreat, or an extended sabbatical if you can afford the time and expense. I took off two years to travel the world and listen to my inner voice, and I emerged from it with a crystal clear vision of what my next company (and my life) should become.

Who or what has been your main source of inspiration that drives you to innovate?

My inspiration to start CrowdMed was my little sister Carly, who spent 3 years with an unsolved medical mystery that nearly killed her. Over the period, our parents brought her to 16 different medical specialists and racked up over $100,000 in medical bills, desperately seeking a diagnosis. Each doctor would treat her symptoms as best they could, but none could identify the root cause of her illness. We’d later discover that she had a rare disease that affects just 1 in 15,000 females. Her doctors had never heard of it, much less seen it.  

Having spent years studying “the wisdom of crowds”, I knew that intellectually diverse online crowds could help solve cases like hers much more quickly than individual experts, but existing online tools like medical forums and social networks just weren’t built to aggregate their collective intelligence. I therefore created an early prototype of what eventually became CrowdMed, and using this system, a hundred people came up with her correct diagnosis in just few days and at negligible cost. That’s when I devoted myself full-time to founding the company.  

Do you have any recommended reading for people who are interested in your topic and want to learn more?

The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.   

Artistic Humor for the Soul: Q&A with Bob Carey

Bob Carey is the photographer and subject of the “Tutu Project.” This series of stunningly silly videos and still self-portraits was originally launched to cheer up his wife, Linda, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and later went viral. He spoke about the power of humor to help cancer survivors.

Photographer and cancer activist Bob Carey at TEDMED 2014

Photographer and cancer activist Bob Carey at TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

Based on the viral nature of the Tutu Project and the impact it’s had, our goal has been to find opportunities to continue to share the images and story, and not only within the breast cancer community. I feel that it’s important to share creative ideas that use art and humor as a means to help live with the many challenges in life. When TEDMED asked me to speak, not only was I excited, I felt it was the perfect opportunity and audience to share my work.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

It matters now as there will always be challenges in life– and inspiration can impact people every day. I hope that my talk will inspire others to see that there are many approaches–sometimes unusual, unexpected or creative– one can use to cope.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

The speaker coaches were kind and compassionate, not that I wouldn’t expect that to a certain degree, but I bonded with them and with that, felt empowered to speak with my tutu on– a first for me. Another meaningful connection was with one of the speakers. The staff was wonderful as were the attendees. It seemed that although the subject matter was different, we were all looking for new and creative ways to approach problems.

The Rewards of Risk-Taking: Q&A with Kayt Sukel

On the TEDMED 2014 stage, Kayt Sukel, journalist and science writer, shared insights into the neuroscience of risk-taking and how play during childhood and adulthood impacts the way we make decisions as adults. We inquired for more on brains at play and her favorite TEDMED 2014 talks.

"Too often, we wrap ourselves up in our grown-up suits and avoid play at all costs. And that’s to our detriment—at work, at home and for our overall health." Kayt Sukel at TEDMED 2014

“Too often, we wrap ourselves up in our grown-up suits and avoid play at all costs. And that’s to our detriment—at work, at home and for our overall health.” Kayt Sukel at TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

I’ve found so much inspiration in many TEDMED talks—and learned quite a bit. As I’ve been working on my book about the science of risk-taking, there were so many things I learned that I wanted to share. I’m honored I got the opportunity to do so on the TEDMED platform.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

More and more, Americans seem to live in a culture of cultivated busy-ness. We have so much to do that we forget to take time for ourselves. And while we understand that our kids need to play (and take risks as they do so) in order to learn and grow—many of us have forgotten how to play for ourselves. Too often, we wrap ourselves up in our grown-up suits and avoid play at all costs. And that’s to our detriment—at work, at home and for our overall health.

I hope that people will recognize that there is great value in play—not just for children but also for adults– and that they understand that taking risks in playful arenas is a great way to gain critical problem solving, cognitive and emotional regulation skills. I want them to understand that the things we do each day to cultivate health don’t have to be joyless and staid. So if the people who listen to my talk find some time to engage in some kind of play, push the envelope a little, and reap all those beautiful brain benefits, I’ll feel like I’ve done something important.

How can we incorporate play and risk-taking into our daily lives?

I encourage everyone to find something that motivates you—whether it’s learning a new language, taking an improv class or rock climbing. Then, push your limits. You’ll be surprised where risky play can take you.

Tell us about your favorite TEDMED 2014 talks or performances that left an impression with you.

I found the whole program to be tremendously inspiring. But that said, if I have to play favorites, I was bowled over by Jeff Karp’s talk on bio-inspiration. His work on finding inspiration in the natural world and then bioengineering it for modern-day use just blew me away. I would never have thought about translating the properties of porcupine quills into state-of-the-art surgical staples– nor would I have agreed to put said quills into my face as a test–but Jeff did! —and it was a pleasure to learn more about his research and the way he thinks about problem-solving.

Jeff Iliff’s talk on sleep and the glymphatic system was fascinating. I remember one of my own neuroscience professors discussing the mysteries of how the brain clears out its waste almost 20 years ago. It’s such a big question—and one that has implications for neurodegenerative disease. I love that technology has advanced to the point where researchers like Jeff and his colleagues are beginning to figure it out. Also, he reminded me that I really need to make sure I get my beauty rest!

And, finally, I enjoyed Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s talk on the Alternative Limb Project. In a former life, I was the wife of a military officer during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In that role, I met far too many soldiers who lost limbs. While prosthetic technologies are wonderful, many artificial limbs can feel a bit blank and soulless. Her creations moved me. And they show that we can embrace our differences, even those that we did not choose for ourselves, and allow them to be just another canvas to show the world who we are inside.

But I feel like I’m leaving out other great talks and performances—like those by Leana Wen, John Cryan, Carl Hart, Danielle Ofri, Marc Abrahams, Sonia Shah, Cole Galloway, Heather Raffo and Farah Siraj. Really, I could go on and on.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

Our family motto is “experiences over possessions.” I hope that, over the course of my career, I’ll inspire people to explore, to connect, to laugh and to live as fully as they can. And that, of course, requires being open to both playing and taking risks.

What’s next for you?

I’m finishing up my forthcoming book about the science of risk-taking, The
Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution, and Chance. It hits
shelves March 2016.

Making New Waves in Anesthesia: Q&A with Emery Brown

Emery Brown, anesthesiologist, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT, and Co-Director of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, unveiled the surprising truth about exactly what happens to your brain under anesthesia and what it suggests for understanding the brain and improving treatment.

"Anesthesia works primarily through the production of oscillations that disrupt the way regions in the brain communicate." Emery Brown at TEDMED 2014

“Anesthesia works primarily through the production of oscillations that disrupt the way regions in the brain communicate.” Emery Brown at TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

When I had the honor to be invited, I realized that it would be a great opportunity to educate the public on general anesthesia and other practices in anesthesiology. The state of general anesthesia is viewed as a blackbox process by the field of anesthesiology, other fields of medicine and the general public. I was motivated by the importance of bringing an informed, modern perspective on general anesthesia to the lay public, the medical field, neuroscientists and anesthesiologists.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

General anesthesia is viewed as a mystery both within as well as outside of medicine. After nearly 170 years of administering anesthesia in the United States, how anesthesia works is still considered as unknown and by some as unknowable. My research can change this because we can teach medical and lay communities that anesthesia works primarily through the production of oscillations that disrupt the way regions in the brain communicate. This disruption of communication is how the drugs make patients unconscious. These oscillations are readily visible in the EEG patterns of patients under general anesthesia. Different anesthetic drugs produce different patterns. The EEG patterns differ because different anesthetics bind to different targets in the brain and therefore produce oscillations in different circuits. All of these patterns are much larger and highly organized than the awake EEG or the EEG of people who are asleep. Therefore, anesthesia caregivers can learn to read these patterns and know whether a patient is appropriately unconscious to undergo surgery. Reading the EEG to monitor the brain states of patients under general anesthesia can be used to eliminate the frightening problem of awareness (waking up paralyzed). Dosing of anesthetic drugs can be more carefully titrated and the incidence of postoperative cognitive dysfunction and delirium will likely be reduced.

General anesthesia is a profound drug-induced reversible coma. A patient has to be in a state of coma, i.e. being completely insensate and unaware, in order to tolerate the traumatic insults required to execute most surgical procedures. Sleep is a natural state of reduced brain inactivation that is necessary for maintaining normal health. Sleep is defined by two primary states; non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. The brain switches approximately every 90 minutes between the non-REM and REM states during natural sleep. The EEG under sleep and a person’s behavioral state (being readily arousable) show that general anesthesia is not sleep.
I hope my talk can provide an accessible forum for the lay public to understand, 1) how general anesthesia works, and 2) that this process which is used every day in millions of people around the world should no longer be viewed as a mystery.

Beyond the need to have general anesthesia for surgery and certain diagnostic procedures, the study of general anesthesia from a neuroscience perspective provides an essentially unexplored way to learn about the brain. This study may also lead to new therapies for treating depression, sleep disorders, pain and facilitating the recovery of patients from coma.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I hope to have taught the public how general anesthesia works and made it possible for the public to understand that anesthesia is not a mystery. I used this knowledge to improve anesthesia care for the thousands of people in the US and the millions of people worldwide who daily receive general anesthesia and sedation to safely and humanely undergo invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

What’s next for you?

My next step is to change practice and research in anesthesiology. I will be setting up my Center for the Neuroscience Study of Anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital, where we’ll work to gain deeper insights into the altered states of arousal created by anesthetics; develop new neurophysiologically based EEG strategies for monitoring the state of the brain under general anesthesia and sedation; teach anesthesiologists and other anesthesia caregivers how to read the EEG in order to understand the brain states of patients receiving general anesthesia and sedation; develop new ways to precisely control the state of general anesthesia and sedation; study ways to rapidly bring patients out of the state of general anesthesia; create all new approaches to producing general anesthesia and sedation that are side effect free, particularly for children and the elderly; educate the medical professional and the public about how general anesthesia works; show that general anesthesia, when viewed from a neuroscience perspective, offers a new and virtually untapped way to learn about the brain; use knowledge gained from studying the brain under general anesthesia to devise new strategies to treating depression, new approaches to producing sleep, treating pain, epilepsy, autism and facilitating recovery from coma.

Any action items you want the viewer of your video to take?

I would appreciate knowing what viewers think about the work. It’s important for everyone to encourage greater funding for study of the neuroscience of anesthesia by federal and private funding agencies. The benefits will go well beyond simply anesthesia care. I also think that it is important that the public encourage the anesthesiology community to put in place guidelines and strategies to use the EEG to monitor the brain states of patients receiving anesthesia care.


Adding sensation to prosthetics: Q&A with Sophie de Oliveira Barata

At TEDMED 2014, Sophie de Oliveira Barata, founder of The Alternative Limb Project, gave us a glimpse into her wildly creative process of designing imaginative, personalized prosthetics. We reached out to learn more about her story and what lies ahead.

Sophie de Oliveira Barata at TEDMED 2014

“So this is a form of expression, an empowerment, a celebration. It’s their choice of how to complete their body — whether that means having a realistic match or something from an unexplored imagination.” – Sophie on the TEDMED 2014 stage.

You’re working on a documentary – “The Alternative Limb Project” – about your work with a young soldier amputee. Can you tell us a little more?

It will be an intimate portrait documentary, following the lives of three inspirational amputees on their journeys to creating unique prosthetic limbs that embody their interests, imaginations and personalities. It tells the story from inception to end – beginning with the design, the construction, and continuing to the completion of the limbs, and beyond.

The documentary asks if the new, alternative limb has had any positive impact on the amputees’ perceptions of their bodies. It explores ideas surrounding the connection between the human body and mind, investigating how the imagination can translate into a physical object and create a tangible realization of one’s personality.

We conduct a series of experiments with the amputees, testing our hypothesis that they form a stronger sense of “ownership” with the alternative limbs than they experience with their standard prostheses.  The aim of the experiments is to assess the significance of “The Alternative Limb Project’ as a therapeutic service for amputees by focusing on and comparing the sense of “ownership” experienced by the participants, both before and after their limb is made.

Tell us – if you were to lose a limb, how would your surreal prosthesis look?

I would want it to be classic, humorous and versatile.  If it were an arm, it would be an arm shape to mirror my other side.  It would be decorated in etched leather, with intricate metal-work housing various compartments.  One would be a long compartment for useful interchangeable devices, like a smart-phone, projector or sewing kit. If it were a leg, it would be made up of interchangeable panels with gaps on either side so daylight could shine through the leg. It would also have a little brass cuckoo bird that pops out on the hour.

You’ve shared that one of your goals is to break down social barriers and change the dialogue surrounding prostheses.  Are you involved in any kind of educational outreach with schools or universities?

I have visited a few schools to discuss prostheses.  When I asked the children to draw their “ultimate” alternative limb, the results were fascinating, from sweet (candy) dispenser legs to arms that house pet stick insects. One little boy just drew a realistic arm and said, “I would want this again.”  Hearing that, I was filled with admiration for his independent thinking. The children, as you would expect, were curious and interested.  Once, following a talk, the head teacher announced that an old student would be returning to show his new electronic hand the following week.  His final words were, “Remember, don’t point and stare – that would be rude.”  Considering that we had just spent time talking about breaking down barriers and reducing stigma, I was quite surprised at what he said.

What’s next for you?
To create more exciting and challenging projects, and to continue inspiring a positive dialogue about the body.

The Sound of Health: Q&A with Julian Treasure

In his TEDMED 2014 talk, Julian Treasure discussed the importance of designing health care facilities with acoustic healing in mind. Now he’s shared a bit more about his talk, his time at TEDMED and his vision for the future.

Julian Treasure at TEDMED 2014

“We’re designing environments that make us crazy. It’s not just our quality of life that suffers. It’s our health, social behavior, and productivity as well.” Julian Treasure at TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

The scandal of noise in hospitals is unacceptable, affects millions – and is virtually unacknowledged by the profession. This must change!

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

I sincerely hope healthcare facilities take my three simple steps for good sound onboard because I am convinced they will transform outcomes almost immediately.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

Meeting Bob Carey and his tutu… wonderful. And with a young baby we are passionate about breastfeeding, hearing E. Bimla Schwarz give the evidence for the benefits of this wonderful process.

How can we learn more about your work?

My fifth TED talk, How To Speak So That People Want To Listen, was released roughly a year ago and is now in the top 30 TED talks of all time. I have resources free and also links to my courses on conscious listening and powerful speaking on my website.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

Healthy sound in every building we occupy – and a world that sounds beautiful.

Magic Medicine? The wonders of nanomedicine

by Daniel Kohane

The content, views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by TEDMED. By inviting guest bloggers, TEDMED hopes to share a variety of perspectives that provoke and engage our community in discussion and debate.

Imagine being able to treat your medical condition immediately when you need to, safely, and without input from anybody else. No waiting to see your doctor, no wondering whether that extra dose of medicine will be too much.

Sound like magic? Well, that is exactly what many of us scientists in nanomedicine believe is right around the corner. And we are proposing the use of a “wand” to make it happen.

“Sometimes you can achieve big things by thinking very small.” Daniel Kohane at TEDMED 2014

“Sometimes you can achieve big things by thinking very small.” Daniel Kohane at TEDMED 2014

Here’s how it would work in a patient with chronic pain. Such a patient would likely have pain that would wax and wane throughout the course of the day and during the night. His/her need for relief would also fluctuate, depending on activity and effort level. Currently, oral pain pills would generally be used to treat the condition, which would take effect sooner or later, and might or might not make the patient adequately comfortable. In some cases, the medicines could make the patient too comfortable, or effectively stoned. The wand could make all of this so much better.

The wand would actually be a laser, or another powerful light source. The patient would place the laser over the painful area and press a button, firing near-infrared light into the affected tissue, where the patient’s physician had injected or implanted a reservoir of drugs. That reservoir would have been built with light-sensitive nanostructures (like those in my TEDMED talk) so that it would respond to a specific light fired by the laser by releasing those drugs. So, using the wand would cause pain medications to be released at the site where the pain is – and only there; no getting stoned with this treatment. And by varying the intensity and duration of the light beam, the patient would be able to determine exactly how much pain relief is delivered, and for how long.

This approach need not be limited to pain; it could be used for a wide range of diseases, in many parts of the body. And the wand need not use light. Scientists have shown that similar effects can be achieved with oscillating magnetic fields, ultrasound, electricity, and many other energy sources. In fact, people are now looking at drug-releasing devices that would not even require the wand component – there would be indwelling sensors on the device that could sense when a drug needed to be released. Alternatively, the devices could have computerized programming that would enable complex patterns of drug release suitable for a particular disease. That process would remove the burden from the patient of having to self-administer injectable drugs several times a day.

As nanoscience gets increasingly sophisticated, it opens up possibilities for medicines that are specific, targeted, with fewer side effects, and easier to deploy. While the potential is not truly magical, they are certainly parts of this field that previous generations of physicians, scientists, and patients would have thought impossible.

At TEDMED 2014, Daniel Kohane, Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Associate in Pediatric Critical Care at Boston Children’s Hospital, revealed some of the amazing work he’s doing with nanoparticle technology to transform the power, safety, and specificity of drugs. 

Building Health: Q&A with Robin Guenther

In her TEDMED 2014 talk, expert in sustainable healthcare design and long-time advocate for healthier healing environments Robin Guenther explored the unusual connections between health and environmental design.  We asked her a few questions to learn more.


What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

For the past couple of decades, I have been developing a body of thinking – I’ve spoken and written a lot for healthcare audiences.  I wanted the chance to “step outside,” focus my ideas, and make a direct appeal for accelerating the transformation of healthcare practice and built environments.

Why does your talk matter now? What impact do you hope it will have?

For me, the immediacy of climate change threats, the persuasive science of toxic chemicals and health, and the rise of interest in healthier workplaces are all coming together to drive a fundamental transformation of healthcare delivery.  I want everyone in healthcare to understand that their practices do have consequences, but they have the power to drive practices that prioritize health and “heal” both people and ecosystems. At 20% of the GDP, healthcare has both enormous upstream leverage and downstream influence to create a tipping point for prioritizing health.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I want to be remembered as being fearless about self-reflection.  It’s difficult to face the fact that healthcare is an industrial system that creates waste, dismal work environments and a load of externalized harm, but it is, nonetheless, true. I believe that only by seeing the system clearly, connecting healthcare practices with their environmental and health consequences, can we transform both healthcare and larger societal practices. I want people to believe that I played even just a minor supporting role in building a world where “health is the aim.”

Is there anything you wish you could have included in your talk?

The quest for “building health” is a global one. I wish I could have shown some examples of amazing work that is taking place globally, transforming systems of care and the buildings that support care delivery.  Of note is the Sambhavna Clinic, in Bhopal, India, that cares for multiple generations of Bhopal chemical disaster survivors and grows medicinal herbs and foods on site.  Another example is the amazing work of the UK National Health Service in transforming care delivery to focus on integrated health in communities.

What action items would you recommend to your viewers?

Join the Healthier Hospitals Initiative or Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.  Select a practice that your organization or place of work engages in,  and research its environmental and health costs.  Does it have externalized negative impacts? If so, change it in order to move beyond those impacts, and share your story!