TEDMED is some creative combination of industry conference, Broadway production, nerd fest (me included), and health food store. The marble walls; the bright red carpet; the bronze bust of JFK at the Center for Performing Arts named in his honor: I felt like a tourist at the registration table. That feeling, however, subsided as soon as I entered The Hive—the designated social and exhibit area set up to buzz with the community’s brainpower and energy. After two and a half days, I rode the Acela home to New York City feeling not only that I experienced healthcare innovation in progress, but also that I had uncovered an urgent demand for greater problem solving in healthcare-aligned industries like my own.*
If it isn’t clear from the line-up of influential professionals, let me emphasize that TEDMED is all about the people. This concept hit home for me when I realized that, at a restrictive 15-20 minutes, the presentations by impressive, accomplished thinkers for their equally ambitious and effective audiences seemed to have been processed into intellectual junk food. But the concentration of all these overall great people makes the conversations that take place in the hallway, inside The Hive, at dinner, and even on the walk back to the hotel truly remarkable. Brilliant. Inspiring. I am not the first to make this observation. TEDMED calls this unstructured but invaluable meld of delegates the “unexpected connections.” Admittedly, I laughed when I saw that tagline, but, in all frankness, my experience validates its premise.
Among the all-star scientists and caregivers, I still found a void in the conference. Actually, it was more of a missing link. Laws and regulations so often mold the healthcare system, especially with the ongoing implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Yet, the PPACA was barely discussed, if at all. TEDMED has done a stellar job providing a public platform for healthcare innovation. But from my experience in the compliance industry, I know that innovation can only work with the support of and within the confines of laws and regulations. Now, more than ever, PPACA is necessitating structural innovation. There was no discussion of Accountable Care Organizations or Healthcare Insurance Exchanges, which are just two areas in need of major innovation. In fact, they are in their infancy and require the smartest and best minds of our generation—the TEDMED Community—to invest time and energy. Both of these areas will have significant impact on the American healthcare system. If we get these wrong, the consequences will be far and wide; but if we get them right, we will all benefit. These areas require innovation that would affect everyone at the Kennedy Center for TEDMED and many that watched from home.
On the train back home, while I thought about all I had experienced in my half-week long trip to a healthcare-industry oasis, a fellow TEDMEDster asked if I would attend next year. The answer: yes. For one reason and one reason only: the people.
* For substantive comments or great ideas presented at TEDMED 2013, follow my Twitter feed @ScottLiebman.