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Health beyond the horizon

Inspiration and innovation. TEDMED 2013 comes to a close.

Andrew Solomon @ TEDMED.

Well TEDMED has come to a close for this year, but not before another full and challenging day.

Soon, a smorgasbord of talks and highlights will be up online for all to feast on. Before that happens, though, I thought I would relay some of the stand-out concepts, ideas and innovations which caught my imagination.

Cool ideas from TEDMED 2013, Day 3.

Capsules in the Cloud

Chronic disease presents many challenges for patients and clinicians. The need for sustained, regular care - often at the primary care level - requires long-term investment, healthcare infrastructure and human resourcing. Crucially important, because even a small disruption in care for people living with chronic disease can result in long-term or even permanently higher levels of morbidity.

One of the challenges is ensuring this population remembers to take their daily medication.

Well a young group from West-Coast US have combined the cloud with the capsules! Connected the mobile to the meds… The standard pill-box has the seven days of the week, and inside each day is the medication one must not forget to take. This group have integrated a cellular-phone sim card into this very device. Genius, no?

The result - it will SMS you if you forget to take your daily pills. Even let your nurse or doctor know if you miss them regularly and arrange an appointment to discuss and resolve the problem. Send data to an app to monitor when and why you forget.

A simple idea, hugely-cost saving and importantly, health-promoting!

Salvatore Iaconesi @ TEDMED.

Nudging At Google

During one the of panel sessions, there was a representative from Google. Talking about their (famously impressive) offices, they discussed some simple, yet effective ways they are making health easier for employees. Because after all, healthier employees mean greater happiness and productivity of their company. And no-one can question the productivity of Google!

Just Google it!

Simple nudges, or carefully crafted reminders to encourage health-preferred decision-making. Google did things like put candy into opaque jars with a lid, instead of open glass jars, lit their stair-wells and lined them with plants, decreased serving sizes in their cafes (which are free, so employees can still have seconds if they wish) and removed the clear glass from vending machines filled with less healthy foods.

Sounds simple, but they actually found that these small changes, whilst they did not remove choice for employees, did result in the Google group eating literally millions of less calories! And walking the stairs, more often than not.

A reminder of the power of a healthy nudge.

Jessica Richman @ TEDMED.

A brush with technology

Many figures stagger me - and they are strong incentives to reflect and think on our lives, lifestyles and legacies. For example, the figure that of all the people in history, who have lived longer than 65 years, two-thirds are alive today. For me, this represents the incredible progresses we have made in public health. Nutrition, hygiene and medical care have all resulted in enormous gains in life-expectancy and quality.

At TEDMED, a talk boldly stated the fact that more people now have wireless internet in the world, than own their own toothbrush. Think upon that for a moment.

More people in India have mobile phones, than toilets.

The message? We need to get better at translating these technologies and the empowerment they bring, to health. In short, technological transition is leaping forward, whilst health and infrastructure lags, slows or worse, stalls.



As an epidemiologist, or someone who studies disease at a population level, I can tell you that when it comes to epidemics - the sooner they are identified, the smaller they tend to be. The earlier we find them, the easier they are to control.

Sounds intuitive? It is.

Some great news, we have have been highly effective in reducing the time taken to detect the major epidemics of the last century. In fact, we have made enormous progress in the last 2 decades. From 170 days to recognise and report an epidemic to the global level in 1996, to just 23 days in 2009. This results in fewer people affected, smaller economic and social impacts and less deaths.

How has this been achieved? Technology and the increasing connectedness of the globe. Which is somewhat ironic as it is also the processes of globalisation that have lead to greater risk from epidemics. But gains have also come from greater global governance, organised response processes and mandated resourcing.

Flu Near You is an initiative from the USA which aims to engage the lay public, connected by social media and a unique, sleek surveillance platform, to monitor and identify flu cases.

Putting the (epidemiological) power with the people!

Through their network of 41,000 US-wide, they can monitor flu-like symptoms in real time and generate data almost instantly for public health responses.

Similarly, global organisations through the partnering with social media companies, are able to look for ‘trending’ references in people’s Tweets or Facebook status updates relating to flu or other infectious diseases.

If you feel unwell, you’re likely to Tweet or Facebook about your illness. Then your neighbours or friends feel unwell and do the same. This can be monitored, in real time!

Although in its infancy, this technology represents a major breakthrough. If applied globally, it could reduce that number from 23 days to 23 hours… Or minutes!

Sekou Andrews @ TEDMED.

Well, once again, be sure to follow the TEDMED vodcasts as they’re uploaded and also the live updates from TEDMEDlive at Imperial College London and around the world.

This was a whirlwind tour of just a few innovations - be sure to explore more.

From DC, once again, signing off.


Check out Day 1 & 2 highlights and join me on Twitter via @sandrodemaio for live updates.

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