As a showcase for some of the best new health technologies being developed in Ireland, the dotMED conference held in Dublin on Friday was quite impressive.
Four shortlisted companies pitched their products ranging from an app using auditory cueing to personalize metronome therapy to help Parkinson’s patients overcome freezing to the world’s first continuous and accurate respiratory rate monitor.
But it was not this that caused dotMED to be sold out months in advance but rather a roster of speakers showcasing the humanistic side of medicine and culminating with a presentation by Dr. Stephen Bergman aka Samuel Shem whose novel ‘The House of God’ is definitive description of medical training for so many physicians.
This year was the fourth time, rheumatologist Dr. Ronan Kavanagh and physician turned medical journalist Dr. Muiris Houston have organized dotMED and it once again proved wildly popular.
They describe the one-day meeting as “the interface of medicine, technology and the humanities” intended to inspire and reinvigorate physicians “and reawaken in them a sense of fun and curiosity about medicine.”
This year’s lineup had a strongly visual focus from the photographs of residents before and after 24 hours on duty by Spanish palliative care physician Dr. Leticia Ruiz Rivera, through a discussion of the artistic potential of graphically representing medical data by Dr. John Greally, professor of genetics, pediatrics and medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the potential for representing medicine in graphic novels by British GP Dr. Ian Williams (@TheBadDr).
Concepts such as ambiguity and the importance of physicians making and maintaining connections with their patients and the rest of the world surfaced throughout the day as did the importance of maintaining humanity in a profession increasingly dominated by technology.
This was perhaps best demonstrated by the only speaker to receive a standing ovation, Irish gay rights activist and drag queen Rory O’Neill, known as Panti Bliss. During an interview by Houston focusing on her 1995 HIV diagnosis, Bliss had nothing but praise for the medical team and spoke of how little prejudice she has actually experienced during her high-profile activities in Ireland.
Just as Texas Children’s hospital gastroenterologist Dr. Bryan Vartabedian did at last year’s dotMED, Detroit nephrologist Dr. Joel Topf (@kidney_boy) was on hand this year to provide a master class on how doctors can use new technologies and specifically social media to enhance their professional lives.
One of the many memorable moments offered up by the day came when Topf was asked whether he was concerned so few of his colleagues were adopting social media tools and responded he was not because these individuals were being by-passed by a generation of new doctors growing up in a digital world.
“We have age and time on our side,” he said.
Laughter in response to this was surpassed only when Williams revealed the highly obscene message hidden in the bar code shown in one of his comic strips done regularly for The Guardian newspaper commenting on the National Health Service.
Strange maybe to pull this out as a conference highlight, but for dotMED it aptly captures the irreverence and refreshing nature of the whole enterprise.