Today, our Editorial Advisory Board gathers in San Francisco for it’s second meeting in the last two weeks. These are the first of several meetings and conversations where we’ll to shape this year’s program and curate the ideas and thought-leaders that will take the stage.
As we immerse ourselves in the design of TEDMED 2018, we’re thrilled to be able to share this year’s event theme: Chaos+Clarity.
Typically, clarity is thought to emerge from chaos. But as we think about these conditions, we’re inspired by their entangled nature, each acting as provocateurs in their own unique ways. We see them as being engaged in an ongoing conversation. Chaos is the question. Clarity is the answer. The more chaos we embrace, the more clarity we can discover.
While chaos is often messy and may appear unscientific, it’s actually the friend of the scientific method. It’s the place where breakthroughs are made. Where the magic happens. And where clarity is found. Clarity, on the other hand, is hidden inside of chaos, and sometimes vice versa, just waiting to be discovered if we know how and where to look.
Join us for TEDMED 2018, and we’ll explore and embrace the power of Chaos+Clarity in advancing science, global public health, and medical innovation across a wide range of topics. Together, we’ll explore new developments in neuroprosthetics; the global epidemic of chronic disease; how to design our way to better health outcomes; the relationship between immigration and health; the science of aging; social isolation in the age of social media; gender equity and harassment in science and medicine: the trauma of violence and mass casualty; the power of resilience; and much more.
Be part of a community shining a spotlight on the inspiration that lives at the intersection of Chaos+Clarity.
Art and design are an important part of what we do at TEDMED, because they are powerful tools for exploring complex ideas and abstract thoughts. This point is driven home by the many artists who take our stage every year. Last year Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud exhibited the power of poetry to communicate experiences and inspire empathy and action. In 2015, Melissa Walker shared the power that art can have to heal suffering minds. And in 2014, Sophie de Oliveira Barata showed how adding a personalized, artistic twist to prosthetics can empower the people who use them.
The work of these and other artists tell stories – a specific example of artistic storytelling was integrated into the TEDMED experience last year. Ted Meyer brought his “Scarred for Life” exhibit to TEDMED, and each piece explored a deeply personal story about the subject’s scars.
Whatever the medium, storytelling as an art form is central to our program at TEDMED. Each speaker carefully crafts their talk to share their unique gift with the TEDMED community, and each talk is therefore a piece of art they share with us.
And to celebrate the influence art plays at TEDMED, each year, we select an artist to create portraits of the speakers in our stage program. In the past, we’ve had the honor of working with internationally acclaimed combat artist Victor Juhasz, faculty and students from the Rhode Island School of Design, and internationally acclaimed Israeli author and illustrator Hanoch Piven. Each has brought personal vision and flair to the work, resulting in wildly different yet captivating illustrations. Their exceptional work was featured in TEDMED event and promotional materials, and was also incorporated into various elements of the event design to foster a creative, collaborative setting.
In 2015 and 2016, we turned inward to work with artists from the TEDMED community. We put out a call for artists, resulting in the privilege of working with talented artists Lauren Hess and Gabriel Gutierrez. This year, we’re doing it again. As we gear up for TEDMED 2017, we’re excited to recommence our search for an artist who can help us bring our speaker portraits to life. Our chosen artist will receive recognition on our website and in printed materials, and will be invited to attend TEDMED 2017 as our guest (travel and accommodations included).
If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, read on!
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The artist will need to produce roughly 50+ portraits in a 6-8 week timeframe. Illustrations will be based on reference photos that will be provided. Final portraits will need to be delivered as high res digital files based on our specifications.
ELIGIBILITY AND TIME FRAME
This call is open to amateur and professional artists, and all art mediums will be considered. While not required, the artist would ideally have a close tie to health and medicine. This could take form in the following ways:
Experience in the medical community
Experience working with patients
A personal story connecting the artist to health and medicine
The work will take place between May – July 2017.
HOW TO APPLY
To apply (or nominate an artist), please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include a work sample, a brief bio, any relevant links, and details about the best way to get in touch (email, cell, etc.). If the artist is a good fit, someone from our team will reach out.
Many people at this year’s TEDMED gathering expressed an affinity for and interest in the introductory video that began each day on stage. It was created specially for this year’s event, and we at TEDMED were proud of the way the video turned out – and we’re especially proud that delegates noticed the effort that went into creating a something special to prime Delegate’s minds for the ideas ahead.
Since there was such a strong reaction, we’d like to share more about the thinking and planning that went into creating this video.
When we met with our partners at TBWA\WorldHealth, a healthcare advertising agency responsible for helping us kick off this year’s gathering, we shared the themes from this year’s stage program, the history and background for our speaker lineup, and the event theme “Breaking Through,” which underpinned everything at this year’s gathering. TBWA\WorldHealth challenged themselves to weave these elements into the story in the video they created, and the result was a piece closely aligned with our programming and representative of elements of the event throughout; much more so than we’ve achieved in the past.
The agency was inspired by the provocative titles that highlighted the individual speakers and their talks: “Human Potential Maximizer,”“Spiritual Psilocybin Researcher,” and “Plant Butcher”, to name a few. The creative team set to work bringing these titles and themes to life with vivid imagery— what you SAW on screen, thanks in part to Getty’s vast library of incredible images. But what really pulled everything together was a strong emphasis on sound design—the sounds HEARD building over the course of the video.
The music in the video is more than a simple bed of sound. Like the world of healthcare itself, there are elements that repeat, interact, tie together, and build on each other to create a vibrant, organic whole. The result is sound and images that represent the various speakers and their disciplines (as an example, recall the hand unsnapping the bra, and the sigh that you heard — which evoke the “Science of Sex Journalist” in the “Human Explorations session). Like the individual instruments in an orchestra, the sounds combine and work in harmony to form the story of TEDMED 2015.
The video is posted below – we invite you to view it again and see how many of the images and sounds you can tie back to the speakers from the session. You’ll see the video in a whole new light.
We loved the smarts and style the agency brought to the production, and we have invited them to partner with us again next year. We’re looking forward to surprising each other — and you — in 2016! If you’re interested in learning more about the production or would like to get to know the TBWA/WorldHealth team —we’d be happy to make the connection.
A Q&A with Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner
During her first year as Baltimore city’s health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen has taken on the tough, chronic issues that plague the city—poverty, violence, and drug abuse. We spoke with Dr. Wen about her efforts to turn Baltimore into a trauma-informed community and a national model for overdose prevention and drug treatment. She talks about the critical steps needed to tackle these deeply entrenched and intertwined challenges.
Baltimore is still recovering from Freddie Gray’s death and the protests and riots that ensued seven months ago. What is the approach you’ve taken to helping the city recover?
Though the period of severe unrest may be behind us, the underlying problems that caused them have not gone away. Violence, poverty, and health disparities have many inputs. In Baltimore and in many other places across the country, these are closely tied to substance use and mental health problems, and to historical policies of mass arrest and incarceration. By focusing on the root causes of violence, poverty, and health disparities, we can turn this challenging moment into an opportunity to transform our city into a national model by demonstrating how public health can be a powerful tool for social justice.
How are you addressing violence prevention in Baltimore?
Violence prevention is a key function of public health. In many ways, violence is no different from an infectious disease. Just like measles or the flu, it is contagious and spreads from person to person. It creates fear and wreaks havoc. It results in illness, trauma, and death.
But this also means that there is hope, because, like any disease, violence can be prevented, and it can be treated. We can implement interventions to interrupt the violence, and we can prevent violence from happening in the first place.
Last year, our Safe Streets program—in which “violence interrupters”, many of whom are recently returned citizens, walk the streets and intervene in potentially violent situations—mediated 880 conflicts, 80 percent of which were deemed “likely” or “very likely” to end in gun violence.
Meanwhile, we are teaching middle school students to recognize the signs of relationship violence and empowering them to change the norms around dating. And we are working with health care providers, who have a valuable opportunity to intervene and help address the underlying issues of violence when a patient comes in with an injury.
We know that preventing violence is far from simple and requires a combination of approaches. Ultimately, violence has its roots in poverty, substance addiction, unmet mental health needs, and rampant disparities. All of these underlying issues must also be addressed for us to have a just and safe city. So we must continue to target our efforts on evidence-based, public health strategies that serve our neighborhoods and save the lives of our residents.
How are you working to change mindsets around violence, crime and trauma?
We are training all of Baltimore’s front-line city employees—including teachers, social workers, police officers, and other outreach workers—on understanding and treating the effects of trauma. When someone is arrested, we can’t just look at that individual as a perpetrator of violence. We need to understand and treat the effects of the trauma they’ve experienced.
Social issues, like poverty, homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse addiction, often underlie deep trauma. We want to make sure all of our front-line city workers have this mentality when we are approaching our residents.
You’re also working to make Baltimore a national model for overdose prevention and drug treatment. Why did you decide to prioritize these issues?
In my city, more people die from drug and alcohol overdoses than from homicide. Nationally, drugs account for more deaths than car crashes, shootings, or alcohol, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that 120 Americans die from drug overdoses every day.
The majority of overdose deaths are from opioids, which include heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone. People who overdose on opioids stop breathing, and within minutes can suffer brain damage and death.
What is most tragic about these deaths from opioid overdose is that there is an antidote that is safe, effective, and literally lifesaving: naloxone, also called Narcan. It’s easy for almost anyone to administer.
In Baltimore, we have been training people with heroin addiction to use naloxone since 2004, including targeted training in hot spots, such as shooting alleys, recovery housing, and prisons. In fact, we’ve trained over 6,000 Baltimoreans this year alone, including community members, legislators, and even police officers.
We advocated for a change in state law that enables us to train anyone who wants to learn to administer Narcan and allows me to prescribe Naloxone to any of our 600,000 residents.
To be sure, treating overdose isn’t the only solution. Addiction treatment requires long-term medications and psychosocial support. We also have to focus on prevention, stop drug trafficking, and teach doctors more careful prescribing.
But if it’s one lesson that I’ve learned from the ER, it’s that if we can’t save a life today, there’s no chance for a better tomorrow.
Baltimore has long been known as the heroin capital of the country. I want Baltimore to be known as a model for recovery and resilience.
You’re tackling some of the most persistent problems facing American cities. What are some of the key steps to accomplishing this work?
Baltimore has a long history of innovation in public health. We are the oldest public health department in the country, and we have a long history of taking on different issues. It is our job to make the case that public health is tied to everything—that we cannot talk about poverty without also addressing the heroin epidemic and what it’s done in terms of crime and unemployment for citizens. We cannot talk about better health care and better jobs if we’re not addressing the core problems that people have when it comes to shelter and employment that also tie closely into health.
We also know the most credible messenger is not necessarily a medical professional, but people who are from the communities they serve. We all have a role to play. We need to work closely with those stakeholders—young people, neighbors, community doctors, nurses—as well as our partners in local government, law enforcement, and hospitals to move the needle and see progress as we take on these challenges.
Collaboration is key. B’more for Healthy Babies for example, is a partnership of more than 100 city agencies, health care providers, insurers, and nonprofits, all of which have signed on to a citywide strategy for reducing infant mortality. Through this collective impact model we have worked together to drop Baltimore’s infant mortality rate by over 20 percent, hitting its lowest point ever recorded in 2012. And as a result of the success of programs like this, we are expanding B’more for Healthy Babies into the B’more for Healthy Youth and B’more for Healthy Teens programs as part of a comprehensive youth health and wellness campaign.
What lessons would you like to share with others working in public health?
Public health is a powerful social justice tool through which we can develop a framework to level the playing field of inequality. We have to change the mindset to acknowledge, for example, that racism is also a pressing public health issue.
By changing the conversation around how we view public health, by directly engaging people in their communities, and by recruiting the most credible messengers, we can find innovative ways to move the needle over the short term, while catalyzing social change that will improve outcomes for generations of Americans.
An estimated 400 physicians commit suicide each year and many more suffer from emotional illnesses and addiction. Estimating that each doctor cares for 2,300 patients, this means that every year close to one million people lose their doctor to suicide. Their loss is tragic, painful and frightening – and, for the families, friends and colleagues of the victim, the repercussions of the suicide are lifelong.
In a presentation that managed to be both fierce and deeply vulnerable, angry and loving, Dr. Pamela Wible shared with the TEDMED community her insights and possible remedies for the physician plights. She described, in detail, what it would look like to care for the people who care for us. She makes a strong case that a major contributor to the problem is our system for medical training: Broken people are perpetuating a broken system.
Pamela exhorts the TEDMED community to commit to changing the plight of the people who give care. Her words were meant to inspire not only those who train doctors but also those of us who are patients. Like all positive care experiences, trusting relationships are at the core of optimizing outcomes.
Pamela challenged listeners to type the words “Doctors Are” into the Google search bar, and see how it auto-populates with the most common search queries. So we did.
This represents a public mindset. It is not “wrong” in the sense of being inaccurate, since it is how people are feeling as a result of their engagements with doctors and the outcomes. But it is wrong in the sense of reality. The people who care for us are our best and brightest, they work unreasonable hours, face untenable pressures and struggle to stay viable in an ever-changing system that fights against what, for many doctors, is the soul of their work: relationships with their patients. The 2014 Physician Foundation Study revealed that approximately 80% of physicians rated patient relationships well above prestige and pay … yet, says Pamela, this is what gets lost in the real life of doctors.
We, doctors and patients, are in this together. It takes two to start and build a relationship. Shifting our goal to creating a “culture of health” demands that we find ways to celebrate and enhance the doctor patient relationship.
On a beautiful Friday morning, hundreds of residents from the Pensacola, Fla., region are converging on the waterfront Blue Wahoos Double-A baseball stadium to experience TEDMED Live as a community. The event, free and hosted by local experts in health and medicine, is a way to inspire passion and a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. “The truth is, we are probably one of the least healthy counties in Florida and we want to spread the word and help people make changes,” says Liz Branch, corporate service line marketing director for Baptist Health Care. Forward-thinkers in making health a shared value, Baptist Health Care has collaborated with its competitors (other local hospitals) to create a coalition to improve health in their community. Several hospitals went “smoke free” together and, with this event, Baptist Health Care has invited hospital employees from around the region, along with community leaders, medical and nursing students and anyone with an interest in sharing the TEDMED Live experience to the free event, which runs Friday, November 20, from 9 am – 2 pm.
In the spirit of promoting healthy behaviors, careful attention was given to health-promoting details: Carpooling is encouraged, the event is promoted as “breastfeeding-friendly” and there is a downloadable event kit, which comes with an exhortation to take notes and “cascade what you have learned to your organizations, churches, family and friends!”
Describing herself as a medical doctor with an entrepreneurial spirit, Lisa Fitzpatrick’s motivation for attending TEDMED to explore ways healthcare can be more flexible and responsive to patient’s needs and most particularly for needful patients in the inner city. “I believe we need to shift healthcare out of buildings and into the community, even if it means offering it on the streets where people are congregating,” she says, noting that she has tried this. “We had a patient who was diagnosed with HIV and because the diagnosis terrified him he would not come into the office. I was told that he was depressed, afraid and potentially suicidal. Each member of our multidisciplinary team (the nurse, social worker, navigator, receptionist and psychotherapist) contacted him to try to convince him to come in. When nothing else worked, they asked me to contact him. I huddled with the team to find out what everyone had tried up to that point. Armed with that information, I called him and told him he didn’t have to come in and I would come to him if he would just give me a few minutes. I left the hospital and drove to where he was. We met in the middle of the block and stood there, having a conversation. I was able to explain the treatment and science to him and as we say, ‘talk him off the ledge.’ He came into the clinic the next day. He has an addiction, and through a combination of phone calls, texting and in- person visits, we were able to get him started him on HIV medication. He has been in treatment since. These efforts are labor intensive but necessary if we mean what we say about improving health outcomes.”
Careers in sales, marketing and as a labor doula have led Denise Terry, co-founder of EmbraceFamily Health, to her current mission: Breaking through barriers in maternal-child healthcare delivery, with a digital health solution for pregnancy and parenting that she describes as being like having your “OB in your pocket.” In partnership with the obstetrician who delivered her twins (now 8 years old), Terry’s company creates and delivers medical-grade, personalized information on pregnancy and parenting, with the goal of “helping moms build healthy families,” she said. Her goals at TEDMED include making synergistic connections and, she hopes, doing some fundraising. Seed-funded thus far, Terry says the company hopes to connect with strategic corporate partners “who might be able to help us get to the next level.”
How can business positively impact society’s health?
Our hybrid group of thinkers had four physicians, three marketers and four agency leaders.
We coalesced on what business is and isn’t; on what health is and isn’t. Perspectives varied, experiences motivated answers and, as a group, we found that our hybridity and disciplinary disparity led us to insights we would not have reached separately. For those of us who aspire to create a culture of health by selling goods and services is a multifaceted endeavor. Producers and retailers need to be incented and involved in creating and selling health-promoting products. Employers have an obligation to support health, but also achieve immense benefit by inspiring and enabling healthier places to work and incenting and rewarding healthful decisions.
The most beautiful sentiment, which summed up the conversation, came to our group from Dr. Param Dedhia, who set our true north with a simple observation: positive health changes – at their core – must bring us joy.
Dorothy Roberts’ work in law and public policy focuses on urgent contemporary issues in health, social justice, and bioethics, especially as they impact the lives of black women and their families. She is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania.
An 8-year-old black girl is repeatedly hospitalized for lung infections. None of her doctors can figure out what’s wrong. Finally, a doctor looks at her X-ray without knowing her race and correctly diagnoses her with cystic fibrosis. None of the other medical professionals had considered cystic fibrosis because of the myth that certain genetic traits exist only in certain races—the myth that black people don’t get cystic fibrosis. It’s a classic case of misdiagnosis based on racial assumptions.
The racial concept of disease—that people of different races suffer from different diseases and experience common diseases differently—goes back centuries to the promotion of slavery. White slaveholders argued that, because of their biological peculiarities, enslavement was the only condition in which black people could be healthy, productive, and disciplined.
Today, medicine perpetuates this long history of defining disease in racial terms. Medical students are taught to treat their patients according to race, and this contributes to the racial inequities that plague every aspect of medical care. For example, studies show that blacks and Latinos are less likely than white patients to receive pain medication for the same injuries. Some theories attribute this to stereotypes among healthcare providers that blacks and Latinos are more likely to exaggerate their pain, can stand more pain, or are predisposed to drug addiction.
This problem persists in medical devices and tests, such as the test that is used to evaluate a patient’s risk of kidney failure. Patients who self-report as black will get a different result than those who self-report as white. The calculation measuring kidney function is set to interpret the level of creatinine concentration in the patient’s blood differently if the patient is black. This is based on the absurd assumption that black people have more muscle mass than people of other races. Assumptions such as these are often extrapolated from old studies that get from one generation to the next.
Countless research projects also search for genetic causes to racial gaps in asthma, infant mortality, diabetes, cancer, and other medical conditions. But scientists routinely use sloppy, inconsistent, and ambiguous definitions of racial categories in biomedical and genetic research, and leap to genetic conclusions without ruling out more logical social explanations for health disparities.
Although studies typically attempt to control for participants’ socioeconomic status, researchers routinely fail to account for many other unmeasured factors—such as the experience of racial discrimination or differences in wealth, not just income, or rates of incarceration—that are also related to health outcomes and differ by race. Any one of these unmeasured factors might explain why health outcomes vary by race. We would expect social groups that have been systematically deprived for centuries to have worse health than social groups that have been systematically privileged—but the reasons are social, not genetic.
The hypothesis that health disparities are caused by genetic difference is founded on a misunderstanding of race as a naturally created biological division, rather than a politically invented social division. Race is a political construct that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact that social inequality has on people’s health. As a result of race-based medicine, health inequities persist — and divert attention and resources from work that could actually help address the social inequities that produce these gaps in health.
Understanding race as a political construct that affects health reframes the way scientists approach the relationship between race and biology. A growing number of researchers from a variety of disciplines, including medicine, biology, psychology, anthropology, and epidemiology, are investigating how racial inequities in wealth, housing, and education, along with experiences of stigma and discrimination, translate into bad health.
We need to work together to transform the way the medical profession thinks about race. We must change medical school curriculum to incorporate a stronger understanding of the social and structural determinants of health, so that future providers will be trained in treating the whole patient.
We need to stop treating patients by race. We need to start valuing people equally as human beings, while working to understand the impact that racism and social inequality have on their health. And we need to join the forefront of the movement to end the structural inequities that produce racial gaps in health.
Integral to our TEDMED mission is assembling a diverse mix of Delegates to present a variety of perspectives on new ideas, trends, treatments or technologies that can contribute to health and medicine. Some exceptional individuals – people we believe would make outstanding Delegates, who would benefit greatly from joining us – qualify for scholarship subsidies if financial obstacles stand in the way of their attendance. Their stories are often inspirational, to say the least. Here are several we’re delighted to welcome to this year’s conference, kicking off today:
Vania Deonizio, Founder, Dancin Power
“I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to a family of musicians, and was introduced to various rhythm of music and dance very early. Growing up I faced a major childhood trauma that almost took my life. That is when I found in dance a way to escape from that horrible situation, along with freedom and hope for a better life. I started Dancin Power (we use the healing power of music and dance to improve the quality of life of hospitalized kids) to help children who, like me, find themselves stuck in difficult situations they didn’t ask for. Dancin Power gives these kids a way to express themselves in a safe welcoming environment. It provides them with an outlet to experience joy and laughter, and most importantly, it reminds them that even though they are sick and in a hospital room, they are still kids and have the right to be happy!
“A few weeks ago I found myself searching for inspiration in TED talks about innovative ideas in health; that’s when I came across TEDMED for the first time. I immediately connected with its concept and felt that Dancin Power and I belong here. We are a small nonprofit; despite the fact that I didn’t have the funds/resources to apply, I didn’t allow that to stop me from going after what I believe should happen. I did my homework and sought who I should connect with via LinkedIn and then was awarded a Partial Frontline Scholars grant. Through crowdfunding I was able to raise the remainder amount to attend the conference within 48 hours! Today I am here and couldn’t be more excited for all that is about to happen! May the inspiration, connections and opportunities for collaboration begin!”
“We all find our career or our calling through different means – maybe it’s an interest we’ve had since we were 5. Maybe it’s a hobby-turned-career. Maybe we just ‘fell into it’ (yep, that’s a pun… and it’s what I did). For me, it was an up-close and personal experience I had with the healthcare system.
“In 2004 I was practicing my springboard diving routine at a gymnastics studio, when I landed wrong and heard a crunch: I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. My official diagnosis was a spinal cord injury with paralysis at the T3-4 level. That meant I could move my arms, but nothing below my sternum. The doctors told me the damage was permanent, and I would never walk again.
“I spent years traveling across the U.S. searching for treatment options. I enrolled in a research study, explored alternative medicines, and continued very traditional forms of physical therapy. After nearly three years, I took a step and eventually that step turned into 10 more steps. Slowly but surely I progressed. Today, I am 11 years post-injury and walk unassisted.
“Throughout the recovery process, I realized that finding treatment options wasn’t efficient. It could be improved upon in many areas; time, financial resources and energy were drained. I wasn’t alone; countless others shared my experience. Many of them heard of my success and reached out for help. By the 100th patient, I knew there had to be a better way.
“Thus, Utilize Health was born. Dedicated to making the treatment process easier for patients, Utilize Health aspires to improve patient outcomes, decrease costs, and change the lives of patients for the better.
“I started watching TED talks years ago – and now, I am inspired daily by people who share my passion for helping others and making our healthcare system better. TEDMED has been a bucket list item for several years. I’ve always been inspired by the doers and dreamers of the world (which is everyone at TEDMED). I still have to pinch myself that I’ll actually be there this year!”
“I came to this from a drastic car crash where I had significant brain and spine injuries. It was a tough path and I wanted to make it easier for others. First I was a patient advocate but the company was run by a group that ran afoul of the FDA and I realized I did not know what real research was.
“As part of my rehab and to redefine my destiny I ended up at Oxford where I am completing a DPHIL on running Public Led Online Trials where the public can research questions of interest to them and we can learn together. Here is some more information on what I am doing: One is a blog written for Oxford; another for the British Medical Journal; the third item is a video Oxford did with me in it for students with disabilities. I plan to blog for my college on this, specifically for the Oxford Thinking Campaign and on our website.”
With the right tools, anyone can use their creativity to invent or re-imagine devices that heal.
For the past six years, I’ve traveled the globe to explore—and invent—do-it-yourself (DIY) health technologies and understand how to best bridge the “maker movement” and health care to bring tangible solutions directly to the bedside.
Makers are the tinkerers, inventors, and everyday people who mash up old-school crafting with computer wizardry to put a new spin on common products or build new things—from kettles and toasters to robots and drones. With an explosion of personal technology such as 3D printers and microcontrollers, and a shift toward open communities of practice, where people freely share their ideas and designs to be replicated or modified, a whole culture of making has emerged. Now, anyone with a DIY mindset can shape, form, assemble, and transform objects using their own hands-on skills and ingenuity.
And it’s happening in healthcare. There is a growing community of “stealth innovators” who experiment, modify and create medical devices.
So, who are these medical makers?
Throughout my travels, one thing has been consistent: Nurses are quietly tinkering with everyday medical devices and hacking materials from the supply closet to create new tools to care for their patients.
For the past two years, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, my colleagues and I have focused on uncovering nurse making in U.S. hospitals to identify resources that could help bring their ideas to fruition and lead to improvements in patient care.
In our explorations, we have found nurses whose making helped reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. Yet, because their inventions have no billing code or published research behind them, they go completely unrecognized by the system. So, we started to imagine what might happen if we moved their prototyping and ideas out of the supply closet and into the spotlight—and gave them access to the same tools and materials used by professional designers and engineers, radically democratized by the maker movement.
Last month, we brought these tools and materials directly to the bedside. We opened the doors to the country’s first medical maker space on a patient floor of John Sealy Hospital at UTMB in Galveston, Texas. Although nurses at UTMB spearheaded the project, the makerspace is open to all medical staff and health professions students, and patients and caregivers are invited to join providers in co-creating tools and devices. Stocked with equipment ranging from pliers and sewing needles to 3D printers and laser cutters, the makerspace also includes a new class of healthcare prototyping tools not found in your average makerspace: modular “vital signs” construction sets, sterilizible materials, biocompatible adhesives, and safety procedures for scaling prototypes.
This is a culture shift. We’re not just reinventing the provider’s instrument bag. We’re re-instrumenting a hospital. And we’re reinventing healthcare. Through medical making, those on the frontlines can develop solutions and introduce new hardware into the care-delivery process faster than a traditional medical device company. Closer to the patient than a biomedical engineer, they can deliver truly personalized medicine and n=1 devices.
We are continuing to develop new tools and resources to help providers, patients, families, caregivers and others “in the trenches” make health. Our new MakerHealth Create site, which launches on November 19, is our first step to turning more ideas into practical devices. And helping bring makers, their devices and their patients out of the shadows.
My hope is that one day, your doctor prescribes not just a pill, but a blueprint for making an easy-to-open pill box. And you go not just to a pharmacy, but to a craft store with your occupational therapist. And that if you have an idea for improving healthcare, you go to a medical makerspace and make it!
It’s time to democratize innovation. When we all take part in devising solutions to improve health, we will accelerate a Culture of Health in this country.