Exponential Medicine – Recap & Reflections

I just got back from attending the Exponential Medicine (#xMed on Twitter) conference hosted by Singularity University in San Diego. This conference, similar to TEDMED, aims to share innovative ideas and developments in medicine and healthcare. It seeks to answer “what’s next?” in these fields.

The conference and innovation lab was predictably occupied with speakers and companies in the fields of stem cell research, tissue engineering, bioprinting, regeneration, synthetic biology, big data, mobile app technology, AI.

I’m very intrigued on conversations about the future of anything, but most importantly when it comes to medicine or healthcare. These fields are vital for the continued evolution of humanity, and all life on earth. When something becomes ordained as The Future of X, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We race to get to the future first, chasing the next big thing. So I watch these developments with as much of a critical eye as I can muster, especially attentive to the origins, trajectories, and meanings of these ‘futures’. These innovators rarely, however, examine our past or roots. Or the ecological context in which they are an inextricable part. They can’t. The whole field is too specialized. But how can you assert a future without a global view?

I am not against technological development or advancing medical technology as much as possibly. On the contrary: these technologies can and will save lives and improve quality of life for those who can access it. But I stand as an outsider looking at the greater social context, and wonder.

I did not see anyone questioning the fundamanetal tenets of their field– a practice which could surely expose blind spots or reveal some kind of blue sky for future developments. A couple speakers argued that better access and more meaningful patterns from big data can provide patients and providers with more relevant and actionable knowledge than RCTs–a good point. Data mined from real patients in real situations is more realistic than trial patients, who are often excluded if they have a comorbid condition. (That and I think RCTs testing treatments against placebo is unethical, but that’s another post.) No one, except for Paul Stamets (pictured above), advocated for even a remotely ecological or cross-species view of health. With an increasingly myopic view of heathcare, we lose context and are therefore subject to poorly performing interventions.

These technologies are beautiful. I’m excited for what they can bring. But we may well go even further by flipping the subject and seeking innovation in tradition, examining why we do what we do, how we know what we know. I’d love for medical educational programs conferences to philosophize a bit more with these subjects. I think only then do we fully engage the subject and envision the future we want to create.

And the setting? Lovely.


Hotel Del Coronado

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2 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Interesting analysis. I’d like to hear more about what your vision is of this philosophizing would look like.

    I find this level of shortsightedness, not being able to look at where we’ve come from in midwifery and obstetrics as well. Primarily in regards to pain management. It’s astonishing how many natural birth advocates speak so harshly about epidurals and use twilight sleep as indications of how woman are drugged against their will proving to them the medical system is a very subduing and horrible place to birth. What many of these advocates refuse to acknowledge or may not realize is that twilight sleep was fought for by mothers. Mothers believed that they had te right to birth without pain. It was a choice women rallied for. They wanted twilight sleep, just as today, women want epidurals. I’m not saying epidurals should be given routinely and without mothers being educated about the side effects, but allowing women the freedom to choose what’s best for them without shame or guilt tripping is essential.

    I also appreciate the stress you place on real experience, mining data from real patients. How do you propose we do this more, do this better? How do you see this being implemented? Primarily for researchers? How can we involve those in the fields of healthcare, directly working with patients and not necessarily with research?

    1. Renee Davis

      Good questions Stephanie.

      In terms of gleaning valuable info from Big Data sources (ie social media sites like Yelp and patient eHealth records), I understand this is pretty far off as there’s a lot of irrelevant information and noise. The techniques are not yet there to weed out what’s not helpful.

      I think for now, practitioner organizations and professional structures of sharing experiences (case reports in journals, conferences, etc) are how this information is exchanged in a group.

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