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Medicine X | Ed keynote speaker: “Networks are fundamental to what it means to be human”

Larry Chu's jacketToday marked the opening of the first-ever Medicine X|Ed conference, a two-day event dedicated to delving into important issues related to medical education in the digital world. The aim of the event is to help attendees understand the medical learners of today and to shed light on how technology and social media affect the way future doctors learn and interact with patients.

Larry Chu, MD, Stanford anesthesiologist and executive director of Medicine X|Ed and Medicine X, got the conference rolling, bounding onstage sporting a life-sized image of his dog, Zoë Chu, on the back of his suit jacket. “We want to create a culture of health where everyone is trusted and respected for their expertise,” he told attendees. “Join us in the future of imagining medical education..."

Chu's infectious enthusiasm set the tone for the day of TED-style talks, learning labs and panel discussions that emphasized the value of shared knowledge and the importance of doctors and patients informing and educating one another. Howard Rheingold, the opening keynote speaker and bestselling author of several books, underscored the importance of networked patients with a simple yet powerful opening.

“I’m really happy to be here,” he told the audience. “I’m a cancer survivor, so I really mean that. I’m grateful to my oncologist and to a network of people online, some of whom I knew before, and many of whom I did not know before."

"I was diagnosed with cancer in 2010," he continued. "It was a kind-of an embarrassing cancer, anal cancer, but I knew I’d need to talk about it.”

Howard Rheingold on stageRheingold started a blog, called Howard’s Butt, where he could turn to other networked patients for information and support. “It became an important source of catharsis for me,” Rheingold explained. “I came back from a treatment, and I needed to get my feelings out. I’ve been cancer-free for 5 years, and [this experience] gave me a deep appreciation for the power of social media."

“Networks are fundamental to what it means to be human," Rheingold said. “When you face a crisis, you need to connect with other people. Technology enables this in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Yet, networked patients face some pitfalls too, Rheingold cautioned. "Cyberchondria" (where patients Google their disease, and what they find online is worse than what they actually have) and overconfidence are two big issues. Networked patients need to learn how to separate the bad information from the good, and they need to evaluate how much they really know, he explained. "I call it crap detection," Rheingold said. Being a networked patient, as well as being a doctor that works with the networked patient, takes time and practice, he said.

After his talk Rheingold told me, “Many doctors and physicians don’t get or understand the networked patient. But there’s an emerging group of physicians that are attuned to this." He looked around at the packed conference hall and said, "By virtue of being here, people are interested... This is how things start."

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category. Those unable to attend the event in person can watch via webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed.

Photo of Larry Chu (top) by Holly MacCormick; photo of Howard Rheingold courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

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