TEDMED 2013 badge

I’ve happened upon many things on Twitter: advance copies of books, a caterpillar that looks like Donald Trump’s hair, and even several awesome friends I may never have met otherwise. A few weeks ago, I saw an announcement that TEDMED—insert nerd swoon here—needed social media “reporters” to help cover its DC event. So I applied, then promptly forgot about it. (At nearly $5K per ticket, I certainly wouldn’t be going otherwise.)

Then I got the email: they picked me! I arrived at the event shortly after 7 a.m. on a Friday, and after waiting in line with hordes of GW and Georgetown students, got my pass. Then, of course, I went to find the coffee. (They serve hipster coffee at TEDMED—worth the wait.)

Dr. Preston Maring, inventor of the hospital farmers market

Dr. Preston Maring, inventor of the hospital farmers market

Instead of an exhibit hall, TEDMED had “The Hive,” which served the same purpose, only in a cooler way. With better (healthy!) snacks. I didn’t have much time to explore, but did meet the physician who invented hospital farmers markets, Dr. Preston Maring. He was standing next to a lovely display of fresh vegetables, courtesy of Kaiser Permanente (and you know if there’s kale, I’m going to find it).

The first session of the day included five talks, which took place in the beautiful Kennedy Center Opera House, and covered topics from supercomputers to personalized medicine, informatics and the perils of chili fries. (They don’t appear to be posted yet.)

Usually I watch TED talks on a tablet while riding my bike trainer, so this was a novel experience. I wanted to hear more. But I had an assignment: Great Challenges of Health and Medicine. Twenty social media reporters covered the same number of challenge breakout sessions.

Though my experience at TEDMED was only one day, several themes emerged:

Healthcare is broken. Everyone seemed to agree on this. And with a crowd of doctors, CEOs, consultants, entrepreneurs, scientists and med students, that is saying something.

Innovation is happening, but usually not on the front lines. One speaker mentioned that healthcare professionals are just too exhausted to innovate. Strides are increasingly happening in server rooms, not operating rooms. Supercomputers and informatics can predict which patients are at risk of certain problems, sometimes years ahead of clinicians.

Great Challenges poster with illustrations of session concepts

Great Challenge: Inventing Wellness Programs that Work

To find solutions, first you have to define the problem. This is where the troubles began in my Great Challenges session: Inventing Wellness Programs that Work. Our first task included defining wellness, and I’m pretty sure we failed. We failed to come to an agreement, anyway.

Whose job is it to manage wellness? Individual? Doctor? Government? Employer? Depends on your perspective, and we all brought a different view—colored by different real-world experiences. It struck me as we talked that this would be a very different conversation with a wider slice of humanity. Our group (and I suspect most others) included CEOs, doctors, professors, consultants, a vintner, and students from elite universities. Could we really address these challenges from all angles? Wellness programs, maybe. But Impact of Poverty on Health? I’m not so sure.

Put the human first. To effectively tell the story of hundreds, tell the story of one—your own story can be the most powerful.

I’m still pondering many of the concepts and challenges from TEDMED 2013, and I’ll stay tuned for updates from the other Great Challenges. Of course we didn’t solve all of healthcare’s problems at one conference, but attending gave me hope that we’ll get there eventually, thanks to cool science, supercomputers, and—perhaps most importantly—health professionals who are putting the patient first.

For “best of” tweets from TEDMED, check out this Storify by @HealthcareWen