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Reflections on TEDMED 2013 and Hopes for TEDMED 2014


The following is a guest post by Dr. Ivor Braden Horn, a board-certified pediatrician and leading thinker on how social media and mobile health technology can be used to improve health outcomes in underserved populations. She is an NIH-funded investigator whose research interests focus on health care communications and child health disparities.




The power of TEDMED on stage is the use of storytelling to illuminate the connections between very different disciplines and perspectives. The secret superpower of TEDMED is what happens when the people in the room get together and turn those connections into real world solutions to the most complex issues in health care. With that in mind, I want to share my three favorite TEDMED 2013 moments — two from the stage and one from conversations I had with delegates.

1. “People can and should lead the change they want to see in their communities.” — Dr. America Bracho, a Venezuelan-born physician who serves as Executive Director of Latino Access in Santa Ana, California

Dr. Bracho’s powerful presentation on the first night of TEDMED was a reminder that the patient and community need equal seats at the table when we are discussing healthcare solutions. The message that community members can lead health behavior change where they live and work is nothing new; it’s always an inspiring story that makes us feel great. However, we need to translate that understanding of grassroots advocacy and participation into the development of cutting edge technology and healthcare design.

For TEDMED 2014, I’d like to see the TEDMED team tackle the next step questions:

  • What can we learn from the expertise of the successful community health worker program that can be translated into the future digital health age?
  • How can we create a culture of adoption in underserved communities to utilize technology to manage health?
  • How do we engage the community in the design and innovation process?

2. “Patients come in with a story, and physicians try to translate it.” — Pritpal Tamber, physician member of the TEDMED editorial team, describing the essence of Sally Okun’s talk

As a pediatrician, I don’t expect my patients to use the same words to describe their symptoms that I would use. A five-year-old child with asthma may describe difficulty breathing as feeling like a fish out of water or chest tightness as someone squeezing them really hard. Sally Okun, Vice President for Advocacy, Policy, and Patient Safety at PatientsLikeMe and the first nurse speaker on the TEDMED stage, gave voice to the notion that maybe health literacy isn’t about patients understanding our medical jargon — maybe it’s about us learning to translate what we say into our patients’ terms.Medical Communication Collage, TEDMED 2013

3. Finally, the culmination of this year’s TEDMED event for me was the Great Challenges Program that allowed the delegates to become the storytellers using AND, BUT, and THEREFORE to create our own narratives. I participated in the Medical Communication small group discussion. During that session, we asked the question, “How can technology enable patients to tell their stories more effectively?” 

That question is true for all patients, but especially those suffering most from the failings of our health care system — minority and underserved populations, whose voices, sadly, continue to be missing from the TEDMED stage.

My advice for TEDMED 2014: Let’s have more under-represented minority voices on the stage, in the room, and on the program development team. It’s time to make the connection.


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