Virtual to Reality: 5 Body-Transforming Innovations

The TedMed conference offers a peek into the possible future of medicine.

ByABC News
April 13, 2012, 3:39 PM

April 16, 2012— -- intro: When you hear TED talks, you may think technology. You may think robots. The fourth annual TedMed conference, the only niche-focused TED event, is seen by many innovators as the perfect spot to debut their best and most intriguing medical technologies. And TedMed, focused specifically on medical innovation, offered just that.

The conference brought together more than 1,500 professionals, patients and those who just have an interest in the topic, to examine the field in creative, analytical and provocative questions facing health and medicine.

The following is a list of just some of the interesting and experienced-based technologies TedMed had to offer in their "social hub" and these reporters' first-hand accounts.

quicklist: 1category: 5 Body-Transforming Innovationstitle: Think Like a Patienturl: text: What would it feel like to be 70? As a 20-something journalist, the thought has never really crossed my mind. But when a group of innovators at the conference asked me, "Would you like to know," I couldn't say no! Inside the "3rd age suit," borrowed from Ford Motor Company and then sit on a reclining chair called Empath to experience the stimulation. I could not only feel the physical weight of being older, but the movement restrictions as well. (Not to mention the glasses that limited my vision). You might be asking, What does this have to do with health?

"By putting ourselves in their shoes and being empathetic to the realities of both patients and caregivers, Empath creates a safer, higher quality healthcare experience for both," Alan Rheault, Nurture's director of product design said. "It is truly a complete healthcare solution."

Nurture's elderly sit-and-stand simulation helps their furniture developers understand what their clients need in a new chair. And I can attest to the difficulty the suit inflicts in what I consider a very simple task today, sitting and standing.

The new Empath recliner on display came from more than 2,000 hours of patient observation. It included features like a locking mechanism and dropping side to provide safer transfer for caregivers from bed to recliner -- an important feature, given that nurses are only second to truck drivers in back injuries suffered on the job, and 80 percent of patient falls occur in the patient's room.

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quicklist: 2category: 5 Body-Transforming Innovationstitle: What's It Like to Have Schizophrenia?url: text: Hallucinations and delusions are something people with schizophrenia deal with, often on a daily basis. But how do you really help caregivers or physicians or law enforcement personal really understand and empathize with these patients' living nightmares?

Step into Janssen's 3D visual immersion experience. The user not only sees and hears what it would be like to have schizophrenia, but also experiences the smells and the feels, taking the user to a whole new level of understanding.

"We all like to believe that we're in control, but really not always," Husseini Manji, a physician for Janssen's Research and Development, said. "Illnesses that cause these disturbances is sometime unsettling for people."

Every year the World Health Organization comes up with a global burden of disease assessment, and surprising to many is how severe mental disability is the leading cause of disability—more than heart disease and cancer combined. "Its surprisingly common" Manji said. "But because of stigma, you don't know."

Schizophrenia, actually, affects 1 percent of the population with normal onset during early adolescence.

The experience was quite unsettling for these journalists. Waking up and walking down stairs, the user is inundated with multiple negative voices that often contradict one another. While sipping coffee, an overwhelmingly negative smell permeates the nostrils and when watching the news anchor speak, the user hears him telling them, "They are coming for you."

"One of the things we wanted to do is try to have people who haven't had the illnesses to see what [it's] like for your loved one, what do they go through," Manji said. "The same way you can't wish away your insulin, you can't do the same here."

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quicklist: 3category: 5 Body-Transforming Innovationstitle: Walk With a Docurl: text: At the Cleveland Clinic, they didn't bring a "thing" to demonstrate at TedMed 2012, they brought their physicians. Their program, "Walk with a Doc," is used at the Cleveland Clinic to promote physical activity while meeting with a physician.

"Walk with a Doc is an innovative program that takes the traditional doctor's appointment outdoors," Dr. A. Marc Gillinov, a heart surgeon at Cleveland Clinic said. "It is low tech, but innovative."

While the "walk" doesn't take place in the TedMed "social hub," the experience is one of the stimulating ways TedMed brings medicine to the forefront of change.

After all, as Gillinov said, "Exercise is one of our best medicines, and it's a great way to start the day."

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quicklist: 4category: 5 Body-Transforming Innovationstitle: What's In a Bodyurl: text: What do you get when you combine a cadaver, a computer, and a team of engineers and artists? A Biodigital Human, of course. Think: Google Earth meets the human body.

"We can zoom in almost to the cellular level to help people see exactly what's happening," Marc Triola, associate dean for Educational Informatics at NYU, said.

The technology, which shows normal anatomy and disease processes, is currently used in medical schools' anatomy classes and as patient education material.

The creators hope that patients being able to see the steps of a procedure will "empower them to learn."

"We need to lower the barriers to learning about healthcare," John Qualter, cofounder of BioDigital Systems, said.

The animations are available free online at

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quicklist: 5category: 5 Body-Transforming Innovationstitle: Take Your Doc Homeurl: text: It may seem like sci-fi but being able to have a virtual presence is closer than ever. The VGo, which has been in use for more than a year, allows a user to move, talk and interact with folks in another part of the world. It is an R2D2 looking robot that, with a webcam connection, someone is able to see what the robot can see and go where the robot can go without moving.

It can help patients who are bedridden, or are mobile but are just sick and not able to leave the hospital or their home

Hiep Nguyen called in to TedMed from Germany, in fact, to participate in the conference.

"This is a beautiful transition," Nguyen said. "Here in this case technology is actually makes things better."

"VGo enables a person to be physically in another place – without being there," Peter Vicars, VGo CEO said. "Sort of like a personal avatar... a person can not only see, hear, converse and interact with distance people but the person can also move around – just like they were there in person."

The futuristic technology is used at the conference to allow non-conference attendees to enjoy the "social-hub," but the use in medicine is ever increasing.

VGo is currently used for house calls and also as a portal for young patients to attend school without physically being there. Children who would normally be isolated and unable to experience what other teens do, now have the option to virtually join their friends in the classroom, the lunchroom, even by their lockers.

"Large increases in demand for healthcare services due to aging population, not enough doctors and nurses, and continued rising costs in a systems that needs to reduce its costs illustrates the need for solutions that extend the reach of healthcare organizations and the people in them," Vicars said.

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