TED Conversations

Alison Acevedo

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How can we better harness our human capabilities to develop medical technology?

In my bioelectricity class taught by TED fellow Nina Tandon, we've discussed the difficulties of diagnosing patients using the results of diagnostic tests like EKGs & EEGs. Diagnosis following these examinations require doctors with extensive experience correlating signal patterns with disease. Interpreting non-invasive diagnostic tests is one of many challenges requiring lifelong dedication to one facet of the medical field.
In light of this, Daniel Kraft's talk about the future of medical tech. is interesting. He highlights technologies that allow doctors to visit patients virtually and robots that allow doctors to work remotely. Exponential technologies, Kraft quotes, 'surpass the ability of the human mind.' Their development is a worthwhile application of human time and innovation.
We also learned about Catherine Wong (http://tinyurl.com/8pjbxwq) an inventor developing an inexpensive, portable EKG device that transmits data via cell phone. She discusses the reality that 2 billion people today have no access to local healthcare. These underdeveloped regions don't have the funds or equipment for remote access health care. Kraft discusses the application of the lab-chip for humanitarian aide, but charitable outreach is more Catherine's focus.
Despite the enormous promise of exponential technology lowering costs for global healthcare, access to diagnostic tools is not the only issue today in medicine. Noel Merz discusses how cardiovascular disease goes unnoticed in women but is their leading killer. While men's heart attack onset symptoms are obvious, esp. in their EKGs, women's symptoms are subtle, requiring MRI's to detect. A greater fraction of women die than fraction of men.
These ideas made me question the continuing value of human insight when developing and disseminating technologies, and the assumptions (and biases) that influence what to develop. Development is a human process. How can we better harness our human capabilities to develop medical technology?


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    Apr 5 2013: Hi Alison,
    I thought it was very interesting that you mentioned the biases that affect what to develop. I think there are a lot of factors that influence what is developed and some can be good while others can be bad. The desire to help those who do not have convenient access to health care and focusing on charitable outreach like Catherine Wong promotes the improvement of already designed technologies with the hopes of making them more available globally. The desire to solve medical problems and create new cures inspires lab work and testing to produce new technologies. Then there is also the desire to make money, which greatly affects which projects are considered financially beneficial. Profitable technologies will always get the most attention. All in all, the possibilities are endless and the motivations numerous. I believe human capabilities will continue to surprise us as new medical technology is developed.
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      Apr 9 2013: Hey Neema!

      I think that charitable outreach in the field of medicine is a really interesting subject, especially because empathy is such a strong human capability, though I'm not sure if that's what Alison meant in her original question. When we talk about the growth of medical technology, we not only mean the advancement of that technology, but also the ease and cost-efficiency at which that technology is shared by the world (what good is a malaria vaccine if it consistently costs $3 trillion dollars per person to be treated?)

      Also, I totally agree with you about the financial motivation when it comes to innovation. Unfortunately, it seems that in order for medical technology to advance, it needs to advance in a way that will make a profit for a company, which goes against my first point, but in reality, I think profitability wins out over empathy the majority of the time.

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