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A look at the future of healthcare at TEDxMaastricht

07-04-2012 om 17:03 by Sueli Brodin

HunkarIt was full house last Monday at the Theater aan het Vrijthof for the second edition of TEDxMaastricht organised by the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre. Visitors from all corners of the Netherlands, Europe and the world had come to Maastricht that day to listen to high level talks on the Future of Health.

The event gathered not only health professionals but speakers and guests from many other disciplines. Not surprisingly after all, because if there is one matter in life that concerns us all, isn’t it our health?


Full house at TEDxMaastricht, photo: Mirella Boot

They were many presentations throughout the day that impressed and moved me, poignant stories of personal courage, visionary insights, promising initiatives… It is impossible to describe them all. Luckily all the videos are already available online on the dedicated website, together with interviews with several speakers.

Obviously, I had my own personal highlights of the day.

Visionary entrepreneur Naveen Jain

There seems to be no problem in this world that Naveen Jain cannot take by the horns and deal with. He spoke so quickly and jumped from one topic to the next at such a fast pace that it was hard to keep up with him, but he sped on and so did the audience, because he is the kind of man who easily succeeds in gathering a following. He took us on a whirlwind of ingenious ideas and turned every subject upside down. The way he sees it, the person who sees a problem is a human being, the person who sees a solution for a problem is a visionary and the person who does something about a problem is an entrepreneur. A passionate, charismatic and energising speech it was!


Naveen Jain, photo: Aad van Vliet

Dr Google Roni Zeiger

Roni Zeiger, or Dr Google as he became known during the seven years he spent as Google’s Chief Health Strategist, gave a fascinating and effective presentation on the powerful value of the data that can be gathered through health related search queries. He explained that the first thing people do nowadays when they have a health related question is to turn to the internet before even deciding to consult a doctor. All these symptom-based queries, if well analysed and exploited, can become precious indicators of the health situation of a geographical location in real time.

Zeiger argued that thanks to the internet, patients have become valuable micro experts on their personal ailments and diseases. He called for a more participatory healthcare system and patient centred research. He even advised doctors to perform internet search queries together with their patients and show them how to look for the best information on their health conditions. He described the new patient as being an impatient person – the “im-patient” - who wants to be involved in the treatment process and become “the CEO of his or her own health.”


Roni Zeiger, photo: Mirella Boot

Medicine man Edje Alingo Doekoe

At first I had no idea where the medicine man came from. He stood on stage as the first speaker after the lunch break and started chanting a song or a prayer. Although he looked African, he wasn’t wearing African clothes and the language he spoke didn’t sound like an African language either. Some of the words he used actually seemed familiar. Especially the word “mato”, which he kept repeating. He talked through an interpreter about the healing powers of the plants of the forest and performed a ritual blessing. When he denounced the activities of Chinese miners and Brazilian loggers in destroying the forest, I finally understood that he came from the Amazon tropical rainforest in South America and that he was using the Portuguese word “mato” to refer to the “forest”. We learned later that his name was Edje Alingo Doekoe and that he came from the small village of Pikin Slee in Suriname, 100 kms deep into the Amazon jungle. Especially for the occasion, the team of TEDxMaastricht had set up an internet connection in Pikin Slee to allow his fellow villagers to see their shaman perform live at TEDxMaastricht and we all waved them a warm hello through the livestream. It was a very special moment.


Edje Alingo Doekoe, photo: Mirella Boot

Mosquitoe buster Bart Knols

Bart Knols fully deserved the standing ovation he received at the end of his presentation. Before I knew it, I was already on my feet and clapping loudly with the rest of the audience. Knols spoke about a serious topic, the fight against malaria, but everything about his talk, which was close to a theatrical performance, was smart, witty, inventive and powerful. He explained the three different methods he has conceived in his mission to eradicate the killer disease from the planet and each method was an example of the out-of-the box science that he said he likes practising. After listening to him, no one will ever read the words “mosquitoes” and “CIA” and smell the stinky cheese from Limburg in the same way! Knols, who had already delivered an outstanding speech last year at PechaKucha Maastricht, was in top shape at TEDxMaastricht and the star of the day.


Bart Knols, photo: Mirella Boot

E-patients and participatory healthcare

The theme of participatory healthcare was one of the leitmotivs of the conference. Participatory healthcare is based on the idea that patients should be seen and treated as partners in the healthcare process and play a more active role in it. The new patient is an e-patient: engaged, enabled, empowered, equipped, expert. This new trend was overall presented as being led by healthcare professionals and organisations, but I would argue the contrary, namely that it is the result of a movement initiated by the patients themselves.

The same paradigm shift is happening in other fields as well. In education, in politics, in journalism, citizens are taking control and leading change. They have higher expectations and are demanding to be part of the system. They are also asking for more transparency and accountability. To me, it just looks like health practitioners don’t have a choice but to treat their patients as partners.


Standing ovation for Bart Knols, photo: Mirella Boot

I was quite taken by the idea proposed by the founder and curator of the conference Lucien Engelen, namely that every gathering on the theme of healthcare should include a number of patients in their programme. Engelen has even devised a special logo that event organisers can now add on their promotional material to indicate their commitment to this idea. The logo clearly states: “Patients included”.

#TEDxMaastricht worldwide trending topic

More than 3.000 people had applied for an invitation to the conference that day and I felt privileged to be one of the 900 guests at the theatre. Luckily the presentations could also be followed via livestream in over 45 locations worldwide or simply on a computer at home.


Theater aan het Vrijthof, Maastricht, photo: Aad van Vliet

The audience had come from far beyond the Dutch borders to be in Maastricht. Next to me sat a nurse from Groningen, a medical data professional from Frankfurt, a young medical student from the Ukraine and a health researcher from Ireland. During the break I had a very interesting conversation with a young Romanian woman living in Utrecht who had helped organise the recent TEDx conference in Baghdad.

Everyone except me seemed to own a smartphone and to be enthusiastically tweeting their impressions away. So much so that our presenter Aldith Hunkar cheerfully announced that afternoon that #TEDxMaastricht had become a worldwide trending topic on Twitter!

I don’t think we could have wished for a better host than Aldith Hunkar, for she is a phenomenon in herself. She looked stunning, not only thanks to her stylish appearance and wonderful hairdo, but especially because of her shiny, spontaneous and fun-loving personality. I laughed when she kicked a huge red TEDx plastic ball right into the audience and joked out loud: “Don’t tempt me!” Also, from the way she pronounced the name of Clarissa Silva, another remarkable speaker of the day, I just could tell she can speak Portuguese.


TEDxMaastricht founder Lucien Engelen (right) and host Aldith Hunkar (left), photo: Mirella Boot

What about next year?

The only awkward moment of the conference came at the end of the day when Aldith Hunkar asked Lucien Engelen if we could now look forward to a third edition of TEDx in Maastricht next year. Instead of the resolute “Yes!” I somehow expected, Engelen's reply was a bit evasive, as if he would have preferred not to be asked the question. The threat of a terrible anti-climax started looming, and was only contained when Engelen announced that there would indeed be another TEDx conference on Healthcare in 2013… but in Nijmegen instead of Maastricht. He didn’t explain why and the topic was dropped, not to spoil the wonderful atmosphere of the day.

But as I cycled back home, I kept asking myself: Why not? Why let such a gem go when you have it?


Photo: Mirella Boot

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Sueli Brodin has been living in the Maastricht Region since 1994. She is the website editor for the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in Maastricht and produces the EJC's daily Media News digest. She is also a team member of PechaKucha Night Maastricht, an informal English-language initiative where creative people get together and present their ideas in a concise format. 

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