Embracing Community, Pursuing Change | Reflections on Medicine X 2015
By Kaitlyn Landgraf
After three packed days of workshops, panel discussions, and keynotes from patients, health care providers, and tech innovators, Medicine X began to wind down on Sunday afternoon as participants paused to reflect on what the conference and community mean to them.
Some like Nick Dawson, a Medicine X executive board member and executive director of innovation at Johns Hopkins Sibley hospital, spoke of the conference’s uniquely egalitarian and collaborative atmosphere. “There’s a pervasive sense of equal footing here. Everybody is a first class citizen, and that is so strikingly different than anything else in healthcare.”
Echoing the same theme of equal footing, Cyrena Gawuga, a PhD student at Brown University and Medicine X e-patient, observed, “It’s really valuable to be in a space where all the stakeholders in medicine are on the same level and everybody wants to learn from each other.”
More than anything, Medicine X is about breaking down barriers in order to collaborate and innovate. “Health care operates in silos,” stated Medicine X’s executive director Dr. Larry Chu. “We have pockets of knowledge everywhere. When we bring those different pockets of knowledge together, we have the tools to really improve health care and shake things up. We elevate the unheard voices in health care.”
To Pamela Ressler, a registered nurse and conference panelist, even the conference nametags bear significance. “Many of us in health care have a slew of letters following our names, and they’re usually printed on our name badges. That’s never the case at Medicine X. You wouldn’t know what someone’s occupation was by looking at their name badge. Medicine X provides a human-to-human experience instead of a clinician-to-patient experience. All of these people are represented here in a very democratic way—that’s one of the things that I find energizing and totally unique about what has been created here.”
There were many first-time attendees at this year’s conference, which was the biggest yet, but there were many others who have been attending since the conference’s inception. Susannah Fox, Chief Technology Officer of the Department of Health and Human Services, has attended every Medicine X conference. “It just gets better every year. I think of Medicine X as a hive that we all come home to once a year to share what we’ve learned and to renew our spirits.”
Another Medicine X veteran, Monika Wittig, observed, “I love the caliber of thought in the subject matter, which is patient engagement. Every year it’s exciting to see what comes out, and it makes you want to step it up even further the next year.”
“This is the only place I know where patients, providers, researchers, and technology innovators come together to co-create in a common space,” said Claudia Williams, senior advisor in health innovation and technology at the White House’s office of science and technology policy.
Central to the mission and identity of Medicine X is the empowerment and leadership of the biggest stakeholders in health care: the patients themselves. Charlie Blotner, a brain tumor survivor and first-time e-patient speaker observed, “It was great to experience the subsets of the people who were here: the patients and patient advocates, the tech and 3D printing people, and the health care providers. Although everyone is working toward a common goal of changing health care, we all have our own individual experiences and unique perspectives that bring us together for different reasons.”
Despite their diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives, all Medicine X attendees seem to have one thing in common: they all look forward to next year’s conference. Sarah Kucharski, an executive board member of Medicine X and coordinator of e-patient programs, who herself struggles with intimal fibromuscular dysplasia, said, “I’ve been here since 2011 and I’m realizing now how long that is. This year has been really solid, and everyone has commented on what a great year it’s been. People are already excited about next year.”
Kaitlyn Landgraf is a graduate student in the department of journalism at Stanford. She previously attended Thomas Aquinas College and Yale University, where she studied philosophy and religion. Follow her on Twitter at @KaitlynLandgraf.