The Medical Futures Lab is Now

October 1, 2012

Medicine is in the midst of a shift never before seen.  Information and technology are advancing at rates faster than our ability to adapt.  The physician of 2050 will think and work in a way that can only be imagined by the current generation.  But we’re completely unprepared to deal with what lies ahead.

That’s because medicine has traditionally focused on what we currently understand.  Our practices and workflows have been predicated on models shaped by the generation before us.  But medical educators need to anticipate and study the issues evolving as medicine undergoes its most extreme transformation.

This past weekend at Stanford’s Medicine X, we launched The Medical Futures Lab, a collaborative space dedicated to rethinking medicine in the digital age.  The MFL will bring the undergraduates of Rice University together with humanist scholars, computer scientists, designers, medical students and doctors from both University of Texas Health Science Center and Baylor College of Medicine.  Our portfolio will include a suite of courses, design studios, media experiments, and continuing medical education courses.  We’re looking to leverage our collective capabilities to identify core problems, create dialog, and fashion innovative solutions, all in a uniquely creative academic culture.

It’s a tall order.  But someone’s gotta do it.

Right now we’re busy planning Millennial Medicine, an April 2013 meeting on the disruption of medical education.  We’re bringing together some of the planet’s most unique anti-disciplinary thinkers to discuss what we need to do to bring medical education into the digital age.  If you’re in medical education, miss it at your own peril.  Millennial Medicine is generously supported by the Josiah Macy Jr Foundation and the Rice University Center for Humanities.

My partner-in-crime is Kirsten Ostherr.  She’s an english professor with a penchant for media, imagery, health and really big ideas.  You’ll find us together at Rice University in the spring of 2013 teaching Medicine in the Age of Networked Intelligence.  We’ll be looking for your input as we build the curriculum.  Stay tuned.

And in just a few short weeks you’ll find us on the first floor of the BioScience Research Collaborative on the campus of Rice University.  Come by, put your feet up and help us shape medicine.  You can follow our public thinking on or on Twitter @MedFutures.


Jim Salwitz October 2, 2012 at 11:49 am

How infinitely exciting and cool.
Take back the night.

Bob West October 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Beautiful work, Bryan! As you probably know, we are doing a complete makeover of our 4 year undergraduate medical curriculum at Upstate Medical University, and your thoughts and passions are already being instructive in this refurbishing process. With any luck, I’ll be able to attend your Millennial Medicine meeting in April, 2013 and glean many more insights on this critical topic in next-gen healthcare.

- Bob

April Velasquez October 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

This blog about The Medical Futures Lab will be a big step in preparing the medical world for the future. Your vision of trying to keep up with the digital revolution that is taking place right now will have a massive impact on the coming generations of doctors. Hopefully instead of getting further and further behind, we can catch up to the ever evolving world. This collaboration also enlightens doctors on how media can help and harm their daily lives of dealing with patients. These up and coming doctors will be able to use to their advantage all the new digital equipment more efficiently. Technology and the media will turn into more of a partner instead of an enemy. Standard for patient care will increase because digital charts and their clearer graphical representation will become more efficient tools for information. Also, doctors will learn more and be more aware about how the media thinks and tries to profit. The doctor will make the patient feel comfortable listening to the expert instead of the media, which has been a big problem.
While technology is a great avenue for many aspects of society’s daily lives, we have to understand that media can change our perception and how we want to use the technology and the information we are given from it and the media. Many people don’t even realize that the media influences them even when they think it doesn’t. Patients want to be knowledgeable and empowered, which media makes them feel like they are, like we have talked about in Dr. Ostherr’s class, but there is such a thing as too much empowerment. The media twists information so that people can self-diagnose, but most of the time situations are not that simple in the medical world. The courses and especially the media experiments will contribute greatly to helping doctors out more when trying to reach out to patients. They will learn different tactics for dealing with the media and how tricky it can be. Media will always be coming up with new ways to get to the population and influence them with subjective material and it will work. It will be the doctor’s job to bring in objectivity and facts to get the patient to understand what’s going on and how he can help. Objectivity will be a doctor’s best friend in this continuing digital world.

Menaka October 4, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Dr. Vartabedian, I am relatively new to your blog but the topics and information you post are very compelling and exciting to read! I am a pre-med student from Rice University, majoring in Heath Sciences—I plan on pursuing both an MD and an MPH in the near future. Your partner in crime, Dr. Ostherr is my professor for a course at Rice called Medicine and Media, which is, as I understand, made possible through grants based on collaborative initiatives such as The Medical Futures Lab. I am, therefore, already directly being positively affected by the initiatives of technology integration and my future educational opportunities through this collaborative lens is something to be downright giddy about.

In the middle of my mental fantasy about the future of medical teaching and technology that will be fostered by Millennial Medicine, I was interrupted by a phone call from my dad who was calling for my almost-nightly iPhone tutorials. A little background information about my dad: he is professor of Management Information Systems at the college of business at Texas Tech University has had experience with engineering medical software and other means of software marketing for over 30 years. His years of experience are defenseless, however, when it comes to new interfaces of technology like the iPhone. My experience with my very own dad makes me wonder, how do already-established physicians feel about this momentous shift in medical technology and will they be able to benefit from the proposed revamping of medical teaching?

I recently came across the popular educational article written by writer Marc Prensky, entitled “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” Prensky allegorically describes “new age students” as being these Digital Natives, being able to use technology to their advantage to learn, and he describes Digital Immigrants as those who, like many immigrants, must make initiatives to learn something new and may have strategic aspects working against them in the process of such adapting. As a Digital Native, on the brink of medical school, I can acknowledge that this technological shift in medicine is something that will not be so foreign to my “millennium generation” but rather, the norm. Although it is true that technology evolves almost faster than E. coli grows on a piece of room temperature raw meat, we may have an upper hand on adapting to these shifts over the “Digital Immigrants” who have been in the medical game for 20 or 30 plus years.

As a related example I will use my friend Rob who was just hired as a consultant at a very prominent energy company here in Houston. His first task was to run a series of workshops to teach veteran employees how to use the revamped networking software. Rob has expressed how uncomfortable he is by the prospect of being that new, shiny, younger model employee, attempting to teach veterans something that they often miss the significance of. He says that some employees have gone as far as to willingly retire early rather than learn to adapt to the technological changes. I can’t help but wonder if this could be a ramification of the technological shift within the medical world today.

The new initiatives for medical technology education are wonderful, but I still wonder how we will address potential re-educating of veteran physicians and if there is a way to ensure that they don’t become foreigners in the land of this medical opportunity.

Jen Kestler October 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I love this post. It reminds me of the Steve Jobs quote, ““I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.” These are exciting times, indeed!

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