Health 2.0 Houston and the Changing Face of Medicine


The following represents a rough narrative of my opening remarks at the launch of Health 2.0 Houston, January 29th, 2013

Let me be the first to welcome everyone to the launch of Health 2.0 Houston.  This is a huge night for the Houston medical community and anyone concerned with the future of health care.  Congratulations to Brian Lang and Laura Shapland for pulling off a tremendous event.  I’d like to think that it was my link bait promotional tweets that filled the house but I think it was more likely the huge effort that Brian and Laura put into this.  I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to offer some opening remarks on how medicine is changing and how Health 2.0 Houston factors in.

This is truly the most remarkable time to be in medicine.  I always say that I’m convinced that I was born at just the right time in history.  I was trained as an analog physician but have been a witness to the digital revolution that Eric Topol has called The Creative Destruction of Medicine.  Everything we understand about what it is to be a doctor is changing.  If we were to fast-forward to the year 2050, the work of a physician would be unrecognizable.  We as physicians are being completely redefined.  And here’s how:

  • Technology. What we have traditionally done with our eyes, ears and hands has been replaced by technology.  I believe that we’re truly advancing into an era of post-human medicine.
  • Empowered patient. There has been nothing more powerful in the redefinition of the doctor than the empowered patient.  Patients are changing and they, in turn, are changing us.  For the better part of modern civilization our role as physician has centered around privileged access to information and knowledge.  But the web has created a type of disintermediation.  Patients can do more on their own.  They can share information and adjust what they’re doing based on the input of others.  And the physician encounter is evolving as a more narrowly defined element in an individual’s quest to understand their condition and get better.
  • Information.  And all of this is fueled by information, access to information and our ability to share it.

Despite the changes underway we’re still a profession of information and idea isolation.  Our culture of medicine is one that insists on permission before sharing or creating new ideas.  Many of us still live and work under a 20th century construct of patient care and communication.  Many physicians try to see the future through a rear view mirror.

So we have a lot of work to do to prepare the next generation of physicians.  Howard Rheingold has suggested that this generation needs a new set of literacies in order to survive.  We’re working on it.

I’m privileged to be co-teaching a course at Rice University this spring, Medicine in the Age of Networked Intelligence.  I believe it’s the first course of its kind that aims to teach basic digital literacies to the next generation of provider.  The course is being offered under a new program called the Medical Futures Lab, a collaboration between BCM, Rice and UT that seeks to address the problems facing medicine at the intersection with technology.

I’ll should add that my co-founder, Kirsten Ostherr, is an English professor.  And it makes perfect sense because the solutions to our most pressing health care problems often lie outside the verticals where we’ve traditionally sought answers.  It’s this sort of non-traditional collaboration that will fuel Health 2.0 Houston.  I see this as mixing the best of the Texas Medical Center with the most disruptive minds in health technology.  In the 20th century some of the greatest developments in medicine arose from the institutions of the Texas Medical Center.  The greatest health care innovations in the 21st century may well arise from the bottom or the edges of medicine, facilitated by groups like Health 2.0 Houston.

In closing I’d like to add that while technology has created the foundation for Health 2.0 Houston, the human spirit to build, create, innovate, participate and connect is what will drive it forward.  I look forward to the opportunity of meeting each and every one of you.

An English Prof and a Pediatrician Walk into a Bar…

Screenshot_1_7_13_10_21_AM-2Today marked the first class of Medicine in the Age of Networked Intelligence, a Rice University course (English 278) that I’m co-teaching with my Medical Futures Lab partner-in-crime, Kirsten Ostherr, PhD.

Our course examines how developments in mobile, social, personal and global health are transforming research, communication, and medical practice.  Topics of focus include social media, mHealth, quantified self, big data, ethics, and the evolving doctor-patient relationship.  The course is open and relevant to any Rice student interested in understanding how culture and health communication have changed in the networked age.

Here’s the best part: a significant portion of the course grade will be dependent upon publicly created content (written and video) and conversation centered on our reading and class discussions.  At the end of the class they will be required to generate a synthesis/summary of their online portfolio.  Some of our students will be attending the Health 2.0 Houston launch to interview some of our local 2.0 luminaries.  Follow their progress on the class Tumblr where their creation, curation and comments will live (look for student posts beginning in about 2 weeks).  And please comment as things evolve.  We’re counting on dialog with you as a means of understanding the emerging role of public thinking.

So what’s a pediatrician doing teaching an English class at Rice University?  And what’s an English Professor doing thinking about technology, media and the future of medicine?  Quite a bit, actually.  We believe that the solutions to medicine’s most pressing issues can be found in the collaborative experiences of non-traditional stakeholders.  This is the thinking behind our Medical Futures Lab, a collaborative project involving Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine and UT Health Science Center.

Wish me luck.  I’ll be writing about my experience teaching college students here, on the Networked Intelligence Tumblr and over on the MFL site.

The woodcut illustration above was created by Matthia Qualle in 1510 and published in 1513.  Latin notations indicate specific areas of the brain and their corresponding senses.  The is in the public domain and is courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

The Medical Futures Lab is Now

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.