Beautifying Darkness: Q&A with Zsolt Bognár

Critically acclaimed concert pianist Zsolt Bognár, frequently featured on NPR, performed two pieces by Schubert and shared his story about how a special connection to Schubert brought him healing solace in part by beautifying darkness. For the TEDMED blog, Zsolt gave us insight into his process, his time at TEDMED and what’s next for him.

Beautifying Darkness - Concert Pianist Zsolt Bognar

Concert pianist Zsolt Bognár on the TEDMED 2014 stage. Photo: Jerod Harris for TEDMED.

What motivated you to perform at TEDMED?  

The TEDMED team contacted me and showed me instantly that this event would be about a gathering of many brilliant and inspiring minds, sharing many stories of innovation and courage. I wanted to share a story through my life and music that was very personal to me.

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

Lots of awareness is being raised these days about the importance of addressing mental health issues, including depression. My story concerns the way that I proactively dealt with my own depression through the inspirational story of Franz Shubert’s final year before his death at the age of 31.

What top three TEDMED 2014 talks or performances that left an impression with you, and why?

Kitra Cahana moved me to tears. She told a story of courage and finding freedom in the face of incredible adversity, and shared her story through images of striking beauty. My other favorite was Tiffany Shlain. Her multimedia presentation capturing the interaction of people and minds was stunning. Elizabeth Kenny‘s performance was dynamic and gripping.

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

People from all around the world came to me telling me their love of music had been reignited, and that some even plan to restart piano lessons.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

My life has been enriched by being open about the challenges I have faced, and connecting with others about how I overcame them was a personal liberation. I hope that with my music, I can encourage others to find hope by doing the same.

What’s next for you?

I’m in Europe giving recitals around the holidays. In February, 2015, I will give a performance in Cleveland with the Verb Ballet in a set of pieces composed for the occasion by a local composer friend of mine, Philip Cucchiara. I have always loved to combine art forms. My tours in the upcoming year will take me several times to Europe. I will also continue creating episodes for my film series Living the Classical Life with many famous classical musicians from around the world. It’s a very beautiful experience and a wonderful privilege to share music.

Virtual Reality: Immerse yourself in health – Q&A with Howard Rose

In his TEDMED 2014 talk, game designer Howard Rose describes the extraordinary power of play in virtual worlds, and shares how virtual reality can harness the innate human power to recover from and prevent illness. We caught up with Howard to learn more about his TEDMED experience and what inspires his work.

Gaming, health, virtual reality, Howard Rose.

“The doctor-centered paradigm of healthcare underutilizes our innate human power to recover on our own, or to prevent illness in the first place.” Howard Rose, TEDMED2014. Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED.

What drives you to innovate?

For me, virtual reality (VR) is the ultimate creative medium. As a designer, I enjoy the challenge of transforming complex ideas into meaningful experiences that bring people insight and joy. Virtual worlds can range from being very realistic to a realm of total imagination. Because VR is so unconstrained, the design process invariably evokes challenging questions about the mind, body and senses that spark the creative conflict which drives innovation.

I’ve devoted my career to exploring the boundless possibilities of technology to solve real world problems, particularly problems in health. We are just beginning to discover how to apply VR to some of our toughest challenges to control pain, treat mental illness and improve rehabilitation.

Why does this talk matter now?

Virtual Reality is poised to revolutionize the way we maintain our health and deliver treatment. It will be targeted like a drug and deliver sustained benefits. But better than drugs, VR can be personalized to individuals’ needs on a moment-by-moment basis. VR will make us more resilient, able to perform at our highest capacity. This revolution will be driven by consumer demand.

Today we are at the edge of a wave of new virtual reality technology that costs a fraction of the systems I used 20 years ago. The VR revolution is amplified by advances in neuroscience and the expanding array of biosensors we wear and carry in our mobile devices. All the elements are finally here to deliver intelligent, compelling virtual experiences that know our strengths and weaknesses and respond to our needs. These technologies are going to help people stay healthier on a daily basis, and lead to new treatments for many conditions that today we suppress or control with pills – like pain, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress.

What legacy do you want to leave?

I want to give people the tools to unlock their own potential to be happier, healthier and more productive. My goal is to make the virtual reality health games industry bigger than the entertainment game industry. I’ve been working toward that goal for 18 years at Firsthand Technology, laying the groundwork  with basic research and development.

I’m now part of a new venture, DeepStream VR, to focus on virtual reality games for pain relief, rehabilitation and resilience. DeepStream VR’s mission is to reduce the need for opioids in clinical practice, and provide new alternatives for people at home to relieve pain.

Games and Health: Q&A with Brian Primack

At TEDMED 2014, Brian Primack, Clinician, Professor, and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Research on Health and Society at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, shed light on how principles learned from video game design can be used to create more effective health behavior change. We caught up with Brian to learn more about his work and his experience at TEDMED 2014.

How healthcare can learn from video games. Jerod Harris, TEDMED2014. Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED.

The video games industry is really good at getting people to perform certain tasks and to stick with them for the long haul.” Expert design including instant reward, social networks, and intermediate milestones can effectively improve patient outcomes. Photo: Jerod Harris for TEDMED.

Personally, what do you prefer: “old-school” video games, or the most recent technology? Why?

I prefer old-school video games. Part of it may be nostalgia. However, I also think that sometimes, simpler graphics and can translate into a richer imaginative experience. For example, I still sometimes play old Infocom games. Infocom created brilliant text-only interactive fiction games starting in the early 1980s.

Do you encourage your children to play video games?

My kids (ages 7 and 10) play video games, and I often play with them. Some of our favorites are logic, simulation, and/or physics games such as Civiballs, Meeblings, and Bloons Tower Defense. What I encourage even more than playing, however, is creating video games. Both of my kids can do basic programming on MIT’s Scratch platform and have created simple games of their own.

Beyond health and medicine, what other applications or fields do you see gamification having a large impact on?

Gamification may be very valuable in education. I think there is an important balance to be struck, though. I think it’s great to leverage the tools we have now to make learning more engaging. However, we also want to encourage people ultimately to learn for its own sake, not just because they are getting points or incentives. I don’t think these positions are mutually exclusive, but balance is important to think about as we develop new educational tools.

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

I really appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with some past colleagues; it was also invigorating to meet people whose work I had admired from afar. I caught up with Lee Sanders, MD, MPH, Chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at Stanford; he’s well-known for his work on promotion of child and family health via health literacy.

What’s next for you?

Our Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health continues to research both the positive and negative influences of media and technology on health outcomes. We develop and test interventions to support positive attributes of media and technology while also buffering their potential negative influences.

It’s smart to design simple: Q&A with Josh Stein

On the TEDMED stage, serial entrepreneur and CEO & Co-founder of AdhereTech Josh Stein shared what he’s learned about designing ‘smart’ devices and the internet of things as they relate to positively influencing patient behavior. We caught up with Josh to learn more.

The Internet of Medical Things

Connected Medical Devices Will Revolutionize Healthcare… If Patients Actually Use Them. Josh Stein at TEDMED2014. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED)

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

The Internet of Medical Things is going through a period of incredible growth, which is absolutely fantastic for patients! However, there’s an enormous design hurdle in regard to user adoption, and this hurdle is largely ignored. In short, there is too great a focus on what these devices can do, and not enough focus on how these devices will actually do it.

The Internet of Things, (IoT), or ‘smart’ devices, can be separated into two distinct categories: devices that users purchase and devices they don’t purchase.

Most IoT devices fall into the former category. Users will pay a lot of their own money for a gorgeous new smart phone, TV, or fitness tracker because these gadgets provide an immediate benefit to the user (they are awesome and fun to use). In these instances, consumers are willing to go through a reasonable set up and learning process for these devices.

In contrast, a large percentage of smart IoT medical devices actually fall into the latter category: users don’t buy these devices, and they are provided to users by a third party. This occurs because: 1) other parties subsidize these tools in order to improve patient outcomes and thereby decreasing overall costs or increasing revenue, 2) consumers typically don’t like to pay for medical devices, and 3) consumers typically don’t see a tangible immediate benefit from these devices.

The reason why this distinction is so important is that most smart medical devices are designed as if they fall into the former category, at least from a user-experience perspective, when they actually fall into the latter category. Thus, these smart med devices are designed as if patients will go through a long and complicated set up process to use said devices, when in reality the patient will not perform such tasks. Patients are simply expected to do way too much in order to use most smart med devices.

I shared this thought at TEDMED 2014 with the hope that this notion will resonate with other smart medical device creators. This could potentially lead to improved devices and better patient health.

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

I met Jim Madara, the CEO of AMA; he and his team spoke about the innovative ways in which they are revolutionizing how medicine is taught. I met Marc Koska; his syringe is one of the most ingenious medical devices that I have ever seen. It solves a huge problem through simplicity and understanding its user. I built a relationship with an individual who is innovating clinical trials at one of the most innovative companies in healthcare. I don’t want to mention this person’s name because, though this introduction, my company is now planning an engagement with his incredible organization. Stay tuned for updates on this collaboration – we’ll keep TEDMED in the loop!

I also met one of my favorite stand-up comedians, Tig Notaro. Her TEDMED talk was awe-inspiring, and it was amazing to see a whole other side to her. I can’t say enough great things about her and her work!

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jay Walker. His wisdom and advice has directly impacted product and vision of my company. I genuinely attribute a great deal of our success to the conversations I’ve had with him.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I want to be known as someone who has a net positive benefit on the world. Professionally, I believe I’m on the right track with the innovative work that my team and I are doing –  our product has been improving the adherence and outcomes of patients since 2013. We work long hours, but seeing improved patient health and traction continues to motivate us.