Sharing of ‘Good Ideas’ Vital to Solve Healthcare Challenges in 2013

Thanks yet again to Twitter, I recently came across an article on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) site, Young Leaders Transform the Future. The article provides a brief outline of the projects designed by RWJF’s first 10 Young Leader Award recipients. The projects, and those who designed them, are so impressive that I felt obligated to share them in hopes they may add additional spark to an idea percolating within a reader, inspire a new collaboration, or be used as a solution to an existing healthcare challenge. Following are three of the award-winning Young Leaders, and a description of their projects as food for thought. Follow the link above to RWJF site for a description of all 10 projects, and more on the work being done to generate new healthcare solutions:

Ruben Amarasingham, MD, MBA
An algorithm developed by Amarasingham’s group spots patients whose social conditions put them at high risk for relapse after discharge from the hospital. Using this breakthrough technology, Parkland Hospital in Dallas has cut its 30-day readmission rate among Medicare heart-failure patients by a stunning 40 percent, a $500,000 savings that has sparked nationwide interest in Amarasingham’s technology.

Naa Oyo Kwate, PhD
With startling comprehensiveness and originality, Kwate video-documents urban neighborhoods to capture and analyze the ubiquity of racist symptoms and messaging. Lately, she has begun to talk back to the urban environment via billboard messages that lay bare—and hopefully defuse—racism’s destructiveness to human health.

Raina Merchant, MD, MS
Blending social media and tournament theory with an emergency physician’s passion to save lives, Merchant mapped the location of every defibrillator in Philadelphia. Next she wants manufacturers to install a GPS chip in defibrillators worldwide so your cell phone will automatically lead you to the nearest one.

The sharing of these Young Leader’s projects is in the spirit of Stephen Johnson, whose TED Talk is included below, and who believes that good ideas take time and input from others to truly take shape and become reality. If more writers, storytellers, documentarians, healthcare providers, entrepreneurs, tech-savvy creatives, patient advocates and others share their experience and stories perhaps we can jump-start the natural evolutionary process of idea formation to action in order to solve healthcare challenges sooner vs. later.

The Power of Social Networks to Change Health Behavior

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, co-authors of Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Think, Feel and Do, have been studying the power and influence of social networks for a large portion of their careers. The concept of ‘six degrees of separation’ took on a whole new meaning thanks to Kevin Bacon, but Christakis and Fowler turned this party game into a science and have shown through peer-reviewed research that social networks can also influence the health status and behavior of the group.

Using the Framingham Heart Study data set, Christakis and Fowler found health and related behavior reflects ‘three degrees of influence,’ meaning your health behavior can indeed be influenced by a friend of a friend. As Christakis puts it in the following TED talk, “If a friend says, ‘let’s go have muffins and beer,’ and you do…and more friends join you, a new norm of what an acceptable body type begins to look like within your social network spreads–literally and figuratively. See Christakis’ Ted Talk below:

Wired Magazine interviewed the researchers in a 2009 article, The Buddy System: How Medical Data Revealed Secret to Health and Happiness, and the New England Journal of Medicine published the duo’s work in 2007, in the journal’s first piece on social media in medicine, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 YearsWhile this may be old news, it is once again gaining momentum as thought leaders in healthcare become increasingly aware of the need to target disease interventions at populations versus individuals alone.

Healthcare as an industry is becoming more and more social media savvy, as the fear of the unknown is overcome by a little education and the knowledge that crowdsourcing almost anything can provide the needed push for a new idea or intervention to take hold. Social networks not only influence health, but are now also being used to find patients for clinical trials–often a rate limiting and time-consuming step to study completion (see Health Data Management, Putting Social Networks On Trial). PatientsLikeMe, out of Boston, MA and led by Jamie Heywood, has built an entire business model around bringing groups of patients together, in their own disease-based social networks in order to share what works and what doesn’t related to treatments, and life in general. The team collects meaningful data to move research forward faster, and now has the ability to match participants to clinical trials they may never have never considered because they were unaware a trial was even being conducted.

By tapping into your own social networks, health or otherwise, you can expand your reach and exposure to more and more information. Knowledge truly is power–it opens doors and provides options that may not have existed before a new discovery is made. But choose those social networks wisely–just like Mom, and now Christakis and Fowler have said–especially when it comes to making health decisions. You are not only what you eat, but what your friends eat!

MedStar Health Institute for Innovation (MI2) Invites Associates To “Think Differently”

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Albert Szent-Györgyi

Last week, Dr. Mark Smith, Director of MedStar Health’s Institute for Innovation (MI2), and his team, invited ~250 MedStar associates to “think differently,” during a day of inspiration and thought-provoking presentations meant to catalyze innovation in healthcare. The foundational premise at MI2 is that there exists a tremendous amount of untapped creative capital at MedStar and healthcare in general, and by encouraging all to “think differently,” solutions to yet unsolved healthcare challenges can be uncovered. Smith designed MI2 to thrive in the thinking space, reframing existing healthcare challenges by aiming intentional thought from new directions, changing altitude–literally and figuratively–as needed. The Institute’s tag line keeps them in the company of easily recognized game changing organizations such as IBM’s “Think” and Apple’s, “Think different”.

The Innovations Day “Early Bird” session kicked off the day’s agenda with Steven Johnson’s TED Talk, Where Good Ideas Come From (see below). The basis of Johnson’s talk is that good ideas take time to grow, and need to be nourished and built upon by others. Those Eureka! moments aren’t reality, according to Johnson, but the process can be accelerated by tapping into the liquid networks of knowledge that surround us–and why the MI2 team was encouraging all in their audience to celebrate the individual expertise in the room.

Dr. Ed Tori, aka The Patient Whisperer, followed with his talk on influence, Seduction Artists, Con Men & Cult Leaders, and How They Can Save Healthcare. Tori uses his growing mastery of influence to connect the head, heart and gut–not only with his patients, but his colleagues and kids as well. “Who wants broccoli?” takes on a whole new meaning in the Tori household when suggested with enthusiasm, authenticity, and a “go first” attitude. Influence, Tori shared, is about managing states and emotions. If you can change the mood, the mind will follow, but connecting on an emotional level is a must and the way to build the rapport needed to engender a following. While this may be a new skill set for many who studied the sciences, it is one that can be learned if the mind and the heart are willing.

Each encounter with a patient is a gift and an opportunity to connect, Tori also reminded the audience. Don Berwick has spoken on this very topic more than once (Google Don Berwick Yale Medical School Address). Care providers are often thrust into their patients’ lives at a time they are most vulnerable. As such, a patient’s authenticity detector is on high alert, per Mark Smith. The words you choose during these highly charged moments of opportunity can make all the difference–whether the patient leaves with a burden lifted, a mother’s concerns are gently eased, or a grandfather returns home with heightened anxiety because he never asked the question weighing heavy on his heart. As a writer, the following YouTube video shared by Tori last week, was a splendid reminder of the impact words can have–simply by altering their order or emphasis. Written, spoken or withheld–words have the power to create meaning that previously did not exist, turn strangers into those with a common purpose, and improve the well-being of others. Which words will you choose to change healthcare for the better? Please share them.

The Future of Education: Only The Mind Is the Limit

“Everyone is both a learner and a teacher,” states Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, and an expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI), during his February 2012 talk on the 100,000-student classroom. Norvig, and his partner, Sebastian Thrun, taught a 10-week course on AI to a virtual class of over 100,000 students from around the globe. Drawing on what others have already accomplished, such as Salman Khan at Kahn Academy, Norvig and Thrun knew that shorter videos work best, and that typical educational deadlines were also a necessity to move the learning forward. Through their experience, the pair has gathered billions of interactions and data points from students on the future of learning, which they plan to analyze and share, as well as use to reshape future offerings.

From flipping the classroom to creating a global classroom, what Khan, Norvig and Thrun have begun, others have picked up and expanded upon. Coursera, the group garnering current attention, is ready to roll with over 100 MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, which include courses in medicine, biology and health, society & medical ethics. Original Coursera partners (University of Michigan, Princeton, Stanford and University of Pennsylvania) offered 43 courses and registered 680,000 students. This week the company announced that 12 major research universities (listed below) will now also offer courses. Both Forbes (“Is Coursera the Beginning of the End for Traditional Higher Education?“) and the New York Times (“Universities Reshaping Education on the Web“) picked up the story, as interest in the changing educational paradigm grows. Whether or not MOOCs will replace traditional education is yet to be seen, but the number of course offerings at Coursera has now more than doubled, as will the number of expected students from around the world. New Coursera partners include:

  1. California Institute of Technology
  2. Duke University
  3. Georgia Institute of Technology
  4. Johns Hopkins
  5. Rice University
  6. University of California at San Francisco
  7. University of Illinois – Champaign-Urbana
  8. University of Washington
  9. University of Virginia
  10. University of Edinburgh-Scotland
  11. University of Toronto
  12. EPF Lausanne (a technical college in Switzerland)

The inclusiveness and ability to reach less traditional students are just two impressive benefits of these MOOCs. All a learner needs is access to the internet, which they can get in any internet cafe or Starbucks around the world. Suddenly someone living on the south side of Chicago, or as Khan points out–in Kolkata, without the means for higher education, has one more option. Not to mention the collaboration that can occur across oceans. As knowledge spreads through these novel means with greater openness and transparency, think of the accelerated rate at which problems, medical or otherwise, can potentially be solved.

I just signed on for a course offered by University of Michigan Professor Eric Rabkin on Fantasy & Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our World, which focuses on how we understand ourselves and our world through stories. As we look to better understand patients through narrative, what better way than to get grounded in the classics and character archetypes once again? And as a perpetual student, what an incredible opportunity to take a course of this caliber in the moments I can spare throughout a full work week! I will be sure to report back on the experience along the way. Please share your own experience with anything educationally innovative–as Norvig so astutely stated, “everyone is both a learner and a teacher.”