TEDMED 2014 Day Two: Thinking Hard, Playing Hard

The second day of TEDMED tackled some of the toughest topics in health and medicine, including addiction and the growing plague of antibiotic resistance, with musings on the power of transparency and simple play.

What can human doctors learn from veterinarians? Quite a bit, as Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCLA Medical School, revealed. From recognizing and treating issues from postpartum depression to heart disease, physicians would be well served to learn from veterinary medicine for tips on how to treat human animals, she said, adding, “What do you call a veterinarian who can take care of only one species?  A physician.”

Abraham Verghese, professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, spoke of the metaphors in medical language, and why illnesses and healing present compelling human stories (perhaps why so many doctors are also wonderful writers).  “Anybody with a curiosity for the human condition, with the willingness to work hard, and with an empathy for fellow humans, can be a great physician,” he said.

Can eating be addictive? Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, explained a bit of the neurobiology behind why drug addiction is not a moral failure due to a reduction in dopamine receptors – which holds true for those addicted to food as well.

“Addiction and obesity have been stigmatized and dismissed as disorders of poor self-control, self inflicted, personal behavioral choices. I never ever met an addicted person who wanted to be an addict, nor have I ever met an obese person who wanted to be obese. Can you imagine what it must be to want to stop doing something, and not being able to?” Volkow said.

Carl Hart

Carl Hart

Carl Hart, who emerged from a youth of petty crime and drug use to teach psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, also weighed in on myths of addiction. Up to ninety percent of those who use illegal drugs are not addicts, he said, and drugs don’t necessarily lead to a life of indigency and crime. “We certainly were poor [in my neighborhood] well before drugs entered the picture,” he said, and criminalizing drug possession only contributes to a downward spiral.

In the session appropriately titled, “Don’t You Dare Talk About This,” organ donation advocate Sigrid Fry-Revere spoke of the hurdles of kidney donation, from getting an organ to giving one. Her proposition: Why not help donors financially, as other countries do to good effect, most notably in Iran.

Dr. Leana Wen urged doctors in the audience to declare any financial incentives – including to do more or less treatment – that may influence their decisions in the “Total Transparency Manifesto” movement she founded.

Carla Pugh had a call to medicine as well – to take training beyond pen-and-pencil tests to extended haptic training. A childhood spent fixing things, a life-or-death moment in the ER, and her own research into how often med students miss bodily cues, led to her creating her own patented haptic training tools.

Carla-Pugh_10

Carla Pugh

Science writer and author Kayt Sukel spoke of the neurological benefits of risks — and risky play — even though some choices, particularly those kids make, look silly to the rest of us. There’s a big cognitive payoff in terms of brain growth to new experiences, she said, and an especially big bounce when gambles pay off. It also pays to expect the unexpected; “Every single day is a risky one, because in this life there’s very little that is guaranteed,” she said.

Click here for speaker highlights from Day One of TEDMED 2014.