TEDMED and GWU Host First Great Challenges Day

The 20 Great Challenges of Health and Medicine are tough to understand, let alone to grapple with, and there has never been a large gathering specifically devoted to using storytelling to understand and to plot out some potential solutions to them.

But for the first time at TEDMED, a special afternoon session was entirely devoted to the Great Challenges. Therefore, a diverse coalition of some 500 experts, patients and TEDMED delegates came together today to do just that.

Group discussion of Inventing Wellness Programs that Work. Photo: Jerod Harris/TEDMED

Great Challenges Day, hosted by George Washington University and made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, kicked off with a plea to recognize the inherent value stories that lie behind the data. Randy Olson, scientist-turned filmmaker, opened the session by explaining the “And…But…Therefore” storytelling technique, as seen above, which working groups for each challenge will use to frame their conversations.

The Story Collider embodies the spirit of storytelling for science. where people are invited to tell stories of their personal experience of science. Ben Lillie, a particle scientist with and comedian, founded Collider because he believes every single person has a story about how science affected them on a deep, emotional level.  He talked about the “why” of storytelling and why personal narratives can be so powerful in illustrating issues. His own story: A ‘heart attack’ he thought he suffered at the age of 23, which turned out to be a panic attack wholly caused by the stress of studying particle physics.

Primed in the spirit of telling stories to save lives, 20 challenge teams of around 25 participants each then gathered for a bit of “viral community-building” and some hands-on exploration and discovery. The discussion was lively, both on Twitter, in the rooms, and with graphics by Discovery Doodles. We also asked some participants to describe their Challenge in six words.

The Role of the Patient 

Managing Chronic Diseases Better

Coming to Terms with the Obesity Crisis (Adults)


The Caregiver Crisis 

Eliminating Medical Errors

Achieving More Medical Innovation, More Affordably

Reducing Childhood Obesity

 Coming to Grips with End-of-Life Care

 Preparing for the Dementia Tsunami

Addressing Whole-Patient Care



Making Prevention Popular and Profitable

Improving Medical Communication

Faster Adoption of Best Practices


Addressing Healthcare Costs and Payment Systems


Addressing the Impact of Poverty on Health

Shaping the Future of Personalized Medicine

Promoting Active Lifestyles


Inventing Wellness Programs that Work

Waking Up to the Causes and Effects of Sleep Deprivation


Coping with the Impact of Stress