Summary of TEDxMaastricht 2012

I was fortunate to be invited to attend TEDxMaastricht 2012 in person. I had watched its first edition last year on youtube and was keen to attend. Since this was my first TEDx event, I did not know what to expect. It turned out to be awesome. Here is a quick summary of what I saw. If you want to watch all the speakers, they are available at the TEDxMaastricht channel on Youtube.

TEDxMaastricht is the European Health focused TEDx event organized by Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre. In keeping with the guidelines from the TED organization, the speakers are all chosen for their original ideas and are given 8 minutes to present them to the audience. Unlike traditional conferences, there are no Q&As at the end of the talk. Also, unlike traditional conferences, the TED events tend to mix it up with inspirational talks, music, video from other TED talks etc.

The two main themes that caught my attention at TEDxMaastricht 2012 were: “Doctors are human” and “patients should be at the center of their care”.

On the first theme, Dr. Jeroen van Dillen showed the dilemma that doctors face today in caring for their patients. They are asked to do everything – care for the patients, be understanding of their emotions, be available for the patients, participate in research etc. His message was that doctors should talk about these dilemmas in an open and respectful way and not try to manage all by themselves. This was done in the form of a skit and the message was delivered very well. His talk is here.

We also saw this video from TEDXToronto by Dr. Brian Goldman where he talks about the mistakes he did during his career as a emergency physician. (A side note – when I watched it in the afternoon, I felt that this video was as long as the talks today – 8 minutes. Now I noticed that it is actually 19 minutes! It certainly did not feel like 19 minutes. It is that powerful). He talked about how nobody knows the batting average of a doctor that they are going to see. No one would like to go a doctor who is batting .400 (a superstar in baseball!) since he has made mistakes in 6 out of 10 cases! His point was that doctors are human, and they will make mistakes like any human being. There is a need for doctors to have an open environment to talk about their mistakes so that they can help others not to repeat those mistakes without fear of reprisals or punishments.

The same message was repeated by Paul Levy (ex- CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital). He talked about how daily a jumbo jet 747 worth of lives are lost due to preventable medical errors. The solution to this is NOT to punish the doctors but to foster an open environment for them to help in preventing these mistakes in the future. He used the learnings from his time coaching his daughter’s soccer team and written a book about it. Thanks to a delay from USPS, we did not get a copy of it! His talk is here.

The second theme had a variety of talks around patient stories and how patients should be at the centre of their care.

The first talk on this topic was by Clarissa Silva, who got the first standing ovation for her talk about how she overcame mental illness. She used to be a caregiver to patients with mental illness when she herself was diagnosed with mental illness. She was devastated to find that they had written in her dossier that “she is not capable to follow through even though she is quite capable”.  She was able to overcome these problems because she worked with her allies in the care team. It was awesome to hear that no one considered the word “recovery” in her context and she is now helping others to heal. Her message was that as long as the care givers and the clients are having an equal relationship, the patients/clients can have a full recovery. The most memorable comment was “courage is being scared but doing it anyway”. Her talk can be seen here.

The second patient story was from Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, who is proud to call himself Ex-Patient 2.0! He was diagnosed with cancer and he took to sharing information about himself and his condition on twitter and blogged about it. He was being subjected to more chemotherapy when someone he had found online informed him that it feels like the chemo has not worked on it but in reality it would have. The only way to know is to allow some time. Then when his doctor also agreed with that assessment, he did not have to get more chemo again. He has been cancer free since then. He then went onto create Layar, the augmented reality browser that is so famous on smartphones these days. I was able to meet him in the dinner the day before too. He is @dutchcowboy on twitter.  His talk can be seen here.

There were couple more talks about having patients in the centre of care. One was by Dr. Paul Grundy, the global director of IBM’s Healthcare Transformation Initiative. He talked about the concept of Patient Centered Medicine Home. It showed how it is changing the ancient practice still followed in medicine of the doctor considered the master builder and the expert. By having patients at the centre, the costs of healthcare can be reduced and quality of the care improved.

The second one was by DocMikeEvans, who creatively tries to address the question of how to how to share medical information with patients so that it is easy to learn. His video 23 and 1/2 hours (about the single most effective thing you can do for your health) has been watched more than 2 million times on youtube.

We also heard Roni Geiger (aka Dr. Google) talk about his work as Chief Health Strategist for Google. He talked about how there are expert patients around the world who become experts in their condition in a short amount of time. He is now collaborating with Gilles Frydman, the president of ACOR, to scale up the power of these experts.

There were other interesting talks as well. The second standing ovation was for Dr. Bart Knols who is trying to find ways to eliminate malaria and dengue spread by mosquitoes. If one jumbo jet crashes due to medical errors in USA, there are 7 of them crashing everyday due to deaths from Malaria. This is why he took up the challenge to do something about it. He has found three ways to fight them – the first is the finding that mosquitoes are just as attracted to cheese as they are to sweaty feet. The second one is training dogs to sniff out the pools of water where mosquito larvae are living. The third one is a pill that a human can take which will kill the mosquitoes that might bite them!

There was also a medicine man from Surinam who talked about the need to conserve forests and the traditional medicine. He talked about how he wanted to be a part of the process when his wife went to the hospital to give birth. He also gave a blessing to everyone who participated in the event. It was very interesting to find that the TEDx organizers were brave enough to invite a practitioner of alternate medicine.

All in all, it was an awesome event. The people behind the event – Lucien Engelen and his team did a wonderful job. Now hoping to be there at TEDxMaastricht 2013!