The votes are counted, and the results are in. The 1,500 so-called delegates attending this week’s TEDMED conference at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. -- and many more watching via live simulcast at some 2,000 sites around the U.S. -- have selected the 20 “Great Challenges” in healthcare that they believe deserve the most attention in the year ahead. “Inventing wellness programs that work” was the top vote getter, followed by the overwhelming burden borne by 44 million people caring for ailing relatives. Rounding out the top three was the challenge of shifting role of patients who find themselves navigating a medical landscape that is growing more costly, complicated and inhospitable by the day. The many TEDMED attendees, who winnowed the winners from a list of 50, know challenges when they see them. They included leading medical researchers, CEO’s, venture capitalists, start-up entrepreneurs, health advocates and patients, who rarely get a chance to take center stage at big medical and scientific talk-fests.
Many attendees have come back, year after year, lured by TEDMED’s dedication to incorporating compassionate human stories into sessions focused on technology, entertainment and design (the TED part of the name). This year, TEDMED’s new owner, Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, moved the meeting from San Diego to Washington, as the first stage in an ambitious attempt to, as he put it, “take TEDMED and grow it into something important for the nation and the world.” Identifying the 20 Great Challenges was one step in that plan. Walker acknowleges that the TEDMED effort is unlikely to produce sweeping solutions any time soon. “We won’t get answers,” he says. “We’ll get a better understanding.” The advocates who backed the challenges were selected for their stature and accomplishments. And they weren’t shy about stumping for their cause. “Can I have your vote,” David Ludwig, an obesity expert at Children’s Hospital in Boston, asked anyone in earshot. He achieved his goal. “Childhood obesity” made the top ten. Now the question is what happens next. Walker’s goal was to launch discussion of these issues that will somehow, hopefully, knock them off the list once and for all. That’s something anyone can root for.