Thursday, October 27, 2011

Humbled and Hopeful

I'm at TEDMED in San Diego this week, where my mind is literally being pushed beyond its capacity and its ability to understand. It's amazing! The creativity and ingenuity being shared is astounding. On Tuesday I watched a paraplegic man walk across the stage wearing a robotic device. Yesterday I saw a prosthetic retina that can help give people back their sight. We heard about how surgeons can now make tumor cells literally glow in a fluorescent color so surgeons can see and remove every trace of cancer, and from other speakers, about how tumor treating fields and other ideas will some day make cancer surgeries obsolete.

Like I said. Amazing.

While some points are clear and easy to understand (e.g. the FDA is 'protecting us' from cures and advances we need) others twist around in my brain waiting to be wrestled into coherence. And that excites me. It makes me feel energized and alive and optimistic and it makes me want to go out and change the world!

As I chatted with a biochemist the other night, I found myself asked a very interesting question: what value was an advertising writer finding at TEDMED? And more importantly, what would I do with all of the information and subsequent knowledge when I got back to work.

It helps to know that in addition to working on accounts for typical consumer-facing products and services, one of my passions is healthcare marketing and advertising. To me, being able to empower patients to know more, learn more and do more to improve their own health is a noble cause and one worth pursuing. We aren't simply "hawking drugs" for big pharma, as one doc put it the other night, it isn't that at all. We are taking complex and often frightening information and delivering it to people who often have emotional issues that far surpass the medical ones they are being treated for. We deliver that information in a way that helps that patient know more than they did before, and we help them have better conversations with their doctors. We help them identify what some of the emotional issues are so they can better convey those issues to their doctors to improve the quality of their care and the quality of their life.

Interestingly, marketing can also help patients with issues like adherence. One doc said that his patients spend more time on websites and with apps then they ever do sitting in front of him. To me, that is the beauty of ongoing loyalty initiatives that seek to keep the patient engaged with the brand and hopefully adhering to the course of treatment. Sure, from a marketing point of view it looks like a profitable way to keep making money on a drug. But the Chief Medical Officer of Walgreens spoke yesterday about how low the levels of adherence are for even basic, treatable diseases in some parts of our own country and how high the resulting cost will be in the future. Staying on course and adhering to treatment also saves lives. Being part of anything that helps people stay healthy longer and enjoy wellness more fully is absolutely worthwhile.

One of the freebies we got in our gift bag here was an "UP" bracelet device from Jawbone that tracks certain body metrics and sends that info to an app on your smartphone. There it is coupled with self reported dietary info for a more complete look at your health. A great example of how technology can perhaps aid adherence. (I cannot wait to get that thing!)

Another thing TEDMED has given me is an abundance of humility.

I am humbled by the brilliance and the science and the creativity being applied to problems large and small. I consider creativity one of my strengths, and certainly a requirement for my own job. But when I hear these speakers and meet these people I am absolutely blown away by their ability to see things in new ways and find innovation around every corner. It makes me feel small. And I find myself challenging myself to do more, be more, think more, and to "be the best version of me" as one speaker put it yesterday. On so many levels I want to be more.

Yesterday, Freda Lewis-Hall, the Chief Medical Officer for Pfizer, said, "change doesn't come when we see the light. It comes when we feel the heat." When I look around at all the amazing things people are accomplishing in the world, people at twice my age and those way younger than me - I gotta tell you. It's getting hot in here.