Healthcare is at a turning point. Big data, evolving consumer preferences and shifting cost structures are just a few of the many complex factors shaping the opportunities and challenges that will define the future. How can we all become forces for positive change and progress?
For the first time, TED partnered with Optum, a health services and innovation company, for a salon focused on what happens when we trust our ideas to change health and healthcare for the better. At the salon, held on July 31 at the ARIA Las Vegas, six speakers and a performer shared fresh thinking on how we can make a health system that works better for everyone.
How we can put empathy back in healthcare. Many in healthcare believe that empathy — imagining another person’s feelings and then doing something to help them — is a “soft skill,” and not an important factor in the success or failure of medical treatments. But according to Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer for the Cleveland Clinic Health System, empathy is a critical part of healthcare that, when cultivated, delivers proven, positive impacts to everything from controlling high blood pressure to the outcomes of diabetes. Best of all, it’s something that healthcare workers can learn, in order to “bake caring fixes back into every single part of the healthcare system.” Boissy knows that patients and doctors both suffer under current healthcare systems and their long wait times, communications gaps, and the endemic pressures that lead to staff burnout. To address these problems in her health system, Boissy implemented some big fixes, like same-day appointments for patients, communications training for doctors and less bureaucratic pressure. Her strategies are designed to build empathy back into the healthcare system and “transform the human experience into something much more humane.”
The myth of obesity and the need for a social movement. The global obesity crisis has reached epidemic proportions — but its root cause may not be what you think. Obesity expert Lee Kaplan has studied the issue for nearly 20 years, and the misconceptions around obesity have remained fairly constant throughout: if people simply ate less and exercised more, the thinking goes, they’d be able to control their weight. But the reality is much more complex. “Numerous studies demonstrate that each of our bodies has a powerful, and very accurate, system for seeking and maintaining the right amount of fat,” Kaplan says. “Obesity is the disease in which that finely tuned system goes awry.” There are many types of obesity, with many causes — genetics, brain damage, sleep deprivation, medications that promote weight gain — but in the end, all obesity reflects the disruption of this internal system (controlled by the body’s adipostat). In order to begin solving this massive health crisis, Kaplan calls for us to stop stigmatizing obesity and take collective action to improve the lives of those affected. “We need to change the public perception of blame and responsibility, and support a social movement that will lead to real progress,” Kaplan says. “In so doing, we will begin to see society shrink before our eyes.”
Innovating the healthcare funding and distribution model. While working in an eye care clinic in Kenya, Andrew Bastawrous was frustrated to find that because of rigid funding regulations, he wasn’t able to help people in desperate need who didn’t have “the right problems.” Though specific resource allocation makes business sense, Bastawrous says, inflexible rules often block healthcare organizations from adapting to shifting situations on the ground. This makes it difficult to deliver even simple medical treatments — for example, though we’ve had glasses for over 700 years, 2.5 billion people still don’t have access to them. That’s why Peek Vision, the eye care organization Bastawrous co-founded and leads, is set up as both a company and a charity — an innovation that allows them to sustainably create healthcare products and serve the communities who need them most. Peek Vision’s successful partnership with the Botswana government to screen and treat every child in the country by 2021 shows that this model can work — now, it needs to be scaled globally. If we design health care systems with trust, innovation and ambition, Bastawrous says, we can create solutions that fulfill the needs of financial partners and improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.
One pill to rule them all? We live in the age of the “quantified self,” where it’s possible to measure, monitor and track much of our physiology and behavior with a few taps of a finger. (Think smartwatches and fitness trackers.) With all this information, says Daniel Kraft, we should be able to make the shift into “quantified health” and design truly personalized medicine that allows us to synthesize many of our medications into a single pill. Onstage, Kraft revealed a prototype that would not only engender an easier time taking medications but also print the drugs he envisions right in the home. “I’m hopeful that with the help of novel approaches like this, we can move from an era of intermittent data, reactive one-size-fits-all therapy,” he says, “improving health and medicine across the planet.”
Divided on healthcare, united on health. The American conversation around healthcare has long been divisive. Yet as health services innovator Rebecca Onie reveals in new research, people in the US are not as polarized as they think. She launched a new initiative to ask voters around the country one question: “What do you need to be healthy?” As it turns out, across economic, political and racial divides, Americans are aligned when it comes to their healthcare priorities: healthy food, safe housing and good wages. “When you ask the right questions, it becomes pretty clear: our country may be fractured on healthcare, but we are unified on health,” she says. The insights from her research demonstrate how our common experience can inform our approach to pressing healthcare questions — and even bring people across the political spectrum together.
Medicine isn’t made by miracles. Our narratives of our greatest medical and healthcare advances all follow the same script, Darshak Sanghavi says: “The heroes are either swashbuckling doctors fighting big odds and taking big risks, or miracle drugs found in the unlikeliest of places.” We love to hear — and tell — stories based on this script. But these stories cause us to redirect our resources toward creating hero doctors and revolutionary medications, and by doing so, “we potentially harm more people than we help,” Sanghavi says. He believes we should turn away from these myths and focus on what really matters: teamwork. Incremental refinements in treatments, painstakingly assembled by healthcare workers pooling their resources over time, are what really lead to improved survival rates and higher-quality lives for patients. “We don’t need to wait for a hero in order to make our lives better,” Sanghavi says. “We already know what to do. Small steps over time will get us where we need to go.”
She has decided to live. Poet, performer and artist Jessica Care Moore closes out the salon with a performance of “Gratitude Is a Recipe for Survival” — a vigorous, personal, lyrical journey through the mind and life of a professional poet raising a young son in a thankless world.