Why the conversations that start in TEDMED need to continue

Why the conversations that start in TEDMED need to continue

A few weeks ago I had the distinct privilege to attend TEDMED as a Front Line Scholar.  TEDMED isn’t your usual medical conference; artists share the stage with scientists and your notions of what healthcare could be are shifted.

While the talks I attended were often inspiring and eye-opening, the interaction with fellow attendees was by far the most enriching aspect of the meeting.  I had discussions with the heads of major academic medical centers one night, and Richard Simmons the next night.  Everyone was excited to talk about healthcare, its challenges, and what we could do to solve them.  The diversity of people and ideas was incredible.

As I flew home from the meeting, I felt a let down because it felt like the conversation had ended.  A conversation about our healthcare challenges and solutions shouldn’t end.  Even more importantly, this conversation shouldn’t be limited to the few thousand people lucky enough to attend TEDMED.

So as I sat on that plane flying home, I thought about what ingredients would be necessary to continue the discussion in a broader way.  After all, everyone in America is united by the experience of being a patient, and we should all be a part of the discussion.  Everyone has something to contribute, and you never know where the next great idea might come from.  Here is what I came up with:

  1.  Everyone must be at the table.  Everyone has an important point of view, and solutions that fail to take into account the diversity of views will fail.
  2. Everyone at the table must be equal.  Healthcare matters to everyone, and your title should not determine whether you have a voice in the debate.
  3. Specific healthcare challenges must be well-defined and solutions focused.  The idea that we will fix the system with a single sweeping change is naïve.  We have to fix the pieces that make up the system, one at a time.
  4. The discussion about healthcare has to be free of sponsorship or special interests.  We have to discuss the problems and solutions as people.  Any ideas that the community develops must be freely available to all.
  5. We must be willing to take action in support of the solutions developed.

I believe a conversation about healthcare following these simple rules has the best chance of success.  The power of the Internet and social media will be the enabling technology that will catalyze this conversation.  By coming together as patients and sharing our unique experiences and expertise, innovation is assured.  A patient revolution, with cohesive support of broadly-based ideas developed by a diverse set of healthcare innovators, can have real power in fixing our broken system.

Chris Gibson is a medical student and co-founder, Participate Health.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shirie.leng Shirie Leng

    Jealous! How did you get to go?? I love the ideas TED gets out there, though I only have UTube access. It will be interesting to see if it’s all talk and no action. That would be a shame.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Solutioneur Andrew West

    If, as you state, the “parts of the system” need to be fixed, what magic will ignite that effort? Under what leadership.

    The current system needs to be replaced – it can’t be fixed. It was never designed and it is only getting worse with ACA.

    • http://twitter.com/ChrisHealthcare Chris Gibson

      I would argue that a popular movement of patients pushing for change will help to change the system. While I agree that much of the system needs to be replaced, I find it highly unlikely that in this age that would ever happen. Instead, I think steady pressure directed at specific ‘parts of the system’ will be required to make change over time. I just don’t see ‘replacing’ the system (in an acute manner, that is), to be likely. ‘Replacing’ the system through steady change, however, I think is feasible.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Solutioneur Andrew West

        Historically speaking that has never happened. Education, agriculture and energy are good examples – we haven’t made progress (as a nation) in any if those areas, while being told that multiple innovations will solve it.

        I know there are many well intentioned efforts, but never in our history have “1000 points of light” come together to fix something.

        • http://twitter.com/ChrisHealthcare Chris Gibson

          I disagree. Energy, in fact, is a perfect example of the ’1000 points of light’ coming together. While we certainly have only begun to solve some of our energy issues, I think it is safe to say that nearly all of our progress on the issue, and all of the progress in the foreseeable future will be in the form of incremental change.

          LED lights, improved battery efficiency, discovery of novel energy sources, cultural changes, are just a few of the thousands of small changes that will be what moves us toward a solution. Our energy system cannot be magically transformed overnight – it will take the concerted effort of many who address many small aspects of the problem.

  • Jessica Yaron

    My daughter, an architect, was a Front Line Scholar as well. I met her in DC on the second night. She was so excited about the information and people she met. The participants I met were too. Will the information gained reach the people currently making decisions and planning the future of healthcare?

  • Simmi Singh

    This is incredible!!! Kudos to you and your organization–I’m excited to join the community once I activate my Facebook and start medical school in DC next year!!

    That being said, I have a comment/question to add on being able to participate and “sit at the table” of Participate Health–do you think an individuals 1.access to Facebook or 2. comfort in expressing their unrestricted opinion on a social media forum may hinder the optimal ability to keep the ball rolling on these deep conversations?

    On intimate issues with many dimensions, like…
    -talking about death and debilitating illness
    -the taboos associated with changing the way to address mental illness, suicide, depression
    -language used to address multifactorial issues like obesity and diabetes
    …I personally would want to feel safe to give my undivided opinion without a fear to be judged, and with a agreement with others participating that I am not infallible and my opinions may change with time!

    Acceptance and encouragement of such flexibility to not be held to your words, especially on Facebook, could facilitate some trust with this revolutionary forum for empowering change agents in health care. I think it’s great to bring people together and begin discussions, but to have the safe space that TEDMED creates, I hope there is a place to pick up on opinions that could be mistaken or misinterpreted to a lay individual looking for soundbites/reason to hate on the institute of progressive medicine (as often seen in politics and media). Just an idea worth considering :) Thank you for this article!

    • http://twitter.com/ChrisHealthcare Chris Gibson


      Thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree that access to Facebook, or even the internet, for that matter is a prerequisite. Though this is not an ideal situation, Facebook does have a broader reach than almost any other tool. We also are working on a free-standing site which will, within a few months, allow us to operate without that restriction.

      I also agree with you that sharing your opinions in such a forum can be intimidating. I can assure you that active moderation is present to preserve everyone’s ideas as long as all take a respectful tone. I am hopeful that the environment we have created is constructive, rather than destructive. I think if people take some time to monitor the community, they would find that it is a great place to share ideas, and to even allow their own ideas to evolve.

      Thank you again for your comment, and good luck next year at Medical school! It is an amazing experience!

      • Simmi Singh


        Thanks for your thoughtful return reply and encouragement! I’m really happy to hear that a website is under the works. It comforting that the virtual, co-creative space your designing will allow for monitored, progressive dialogue and easy actionable steps to take towards improving outcomes. I believe our communities and influential centers for health care will be better because of initiatives like this one. I admire the courage it took for your organization to bridge the gap between the TEDMED platform and our personal engagement.

        Again, I appreciate the inspiring hard work behind imagining Participate Health in the first place, and then making the forum a reality. If there’s any way I or other medical students can help, please let me know! Thanks and good luck with your Participate Health launch!

        • http://twitter.com/ChrisHealthcare Chris Gibson

          The best thing you can do to help is to help bring people into the community. If we can bring hundreds or even thousands of people together (medical students or anyone!), I think that is when we will really see the fruits come. If you are anything like me, I’m sure discussing these sorts of ideas and trying to move the conversation (and action) forward is fun! Share the Participate Health page with your friends, encourage them to join, and if (or when), you feel comfortable, jump on and share your opinions too!

          • Simmi Singh

            Awesome–will do!

Most Popular