TEDMED: Great Lessons in “Less Is More”

The very encyclopedic definition of health starts off like this: Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism. In humans, it is the general condition of a person‘s mind and body, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain (as in “good health” or “healthy“).

This is well demonstrated both on the stage and in the entire surround sound of TEDMED 2014. Humor me as I tell you about the experience itself and how it changed me… profoundly.

I’ve been a huge fan of TED for years. TED’s not a guy; TED is the convergence of Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED is powerful.

TEDMED is a very cool cousin of TED’s whose goal is to seed the innovations in health and medicine of today, making the breakthroughs of tomorrow possible.

TEDMED throws an annual event that celebrates their achievements and brings amazing thought leaders to the stage to share what they bring to the world, each with a very different point-of-view, each from very different walks of life.

Our teams were based in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, and we were charged with representing the goings-on there and reporting them into social media channels on behalf of TEDMED. Our goal was to bring as much of the essence of what was happening to those unable to attend. Worldwide.

The Kennedy Center in D.C. was the perfect setting and there was a large temporary enclosure just outside the venue called The Hive. Here, startup vendors shared information about their products and services, baristas were at the ready to caffeinate the attendees, healthy snacks were available, and mini-theaters included a dual-screen live simulcast of the sessions from both coasts.

Among the speakers whom I found compelling was Julian Treasure, a sound evangelist who drove home the need to reduce noise within medical settings such as hospitals and physician offices. White or pink noise occurs in a particular spectrum that can be more damaging than you might think, creating undue stress for patients and staff. Something as simple as clicking closed a ring binder at the foot of a bed can awaken a patient unnecessarily. Simple, inexpensive changes to the environment like acoustic tiles, carpeting and other fabrics and substrates, muting the beeps and blips of monitors, and staff training can go a long way in reducing noise, and subsequently lessening the impact of that noise on patients, staff, and caregivers.


Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University and used her tuition money to start her company, Theranos. She has developed a novel way of using a few drops of blood to run 30 lab tests. The results are faster, more accurate, and far cheaper than conventional methods. This is an amazing story of access. Patients often have to make multiple visits to the doctor’s office or lab to provide blood for tests and screenings. This consolidation and reduction in cost can benefit the global community.

The other speaker who really resonated with me was Marc Koska. The reuse of syringes by multiple people is the cause of widespread disease. In response, Marc has invented a single-use syringe called “Lifesaver.” He has teamed up with the World Health Organization (WHO) and, if their collective efforts are as effective as they hope, they will curb the unnecessary spread of disease and infection, and save many lives. I’m also compelled to say that Marc stayed at the same hotel as our team and we totally hung out and he’s awesome.

koska-nyad (That’s Marc in the center, hanging with the rest of us. Oh yeah, and Diana Nyad!)

All in all, these fascinating people and groups came together to “unlock” imagination. They look at issues from many angles, mash up many disciplines, and seek to solve a myriad of problems around health and wellness. This aligns with our agency’s initiative of helping not selling, and that made TEDMED feel like home—if home was one the coolest places in the world… with some of the coolest people in the world hanging out in it. I’m fortunate to have been a part of TEDMED 2014 and I believe it has affected how I view all that we do here at DH LifeBrands.

Oh, and I also hung out with Diana Nyad for a spell. What a trip.

– Norm Alger, VP/Group Director, Creative