Category Archives: Culture

Final Thoughts about the Medical Media Arts Lab



Last night was our final critique of our semester in Medical Media Arts Lab. It’s been a incredible journey being able to see a simple idea turn into a feasible project in just a few short months!

Here have been my three biggest takeaways:

1. Having a passion is so important. Many times throughout the semester I would feel discouraged or unmotivated, especially in the beginning when we were trying to figure out what exactly was the question we were trying to answer. Were we trying to make an exhibit to educate people about artificial heart technology or to tell the untold story of Dr. Akers’ contribution? After the first critique many of the comments expressed the same. But as Mijin mentioned in our presentation, it was the passion and excitement of the audience members during our first presentation that made us realize we had something bigger on our hands than we expected and helped us go back to the drawing board and see our problem in a different light. It was also encouraging each time we conducted an oral history interview with the individuals involved in the artificial heart project in the 1960’s. They each were so willing to share their story and eager to see it come to life in the present day, and the energy was contagious. Without a passion and an intrinsic motivation to continue, this project wouldn’t be happening.

2. Teamwork is essential. Our prototype and ideas honestly wouldn’t have come this far without the team I was in. Emily is an amazing speaker and hard worker, Mijin has valuable resources and skills with capturing stories from the past, and I contribute with my skills in digital media. This can be applied beyond the scope of our project into the subject of healthcare as well. All semester we’ve been talking about how to improve the communication, through whatever medium, between physician and patient. We’ve been talking about changing the conversation of the physician-patient relationship from the patient being a passive follower to the patient having an active voice and contribution to the dialogue about their healthcare. This can only happen if both the patient and doctor see themselves as a team rather than two opposing sides of a problem.

3. Start with Why. This is technically taken from Simon Sinek’s TED talk, but it’s been a common critique through the design process and practicing our presentations as well. Each time we’ve come up with a cool idea for a display we wanted to include in the exhibit, we were always stopped and asked “Why?” Would implementing this idea bring us closer to our goal, or do we want to add it because it looks cool? I saw the same principle applied in the other projects as well as they gave their final critiques. Many of the other teams designed a mobile app as part of their solution to their problem, but I liked how the ICU team recognized that although using an iPad to display information about rounds would be cool and in line with the digital health literacy trends of today, the current limitations of technology suggest that using a more traditional medium like a giant display screen would suit their problem’s needs a lot better.

I’m so thankful to my team members, our amazing problem-owners Dr. Grande-Allen and Dr. Igo, Dr. Ostherr and the teaching team, and all the individuals who helped us get to where we are today. I’ll be graduating this semester and moving to a different city so my contribution to our Artificial Hearts Project has come to an end, but it’s been an honor to be a part of this amazing process, and I can’t wait to visit when the exhibition opens!

Trust the Knife

Last summer my father had a basal cell carcinoma removed. It was about a dime sized patch of skin just to the left of his nose. Although this form of cancer is rarely deadly it was still a sobering experience for my family especially considering we are all fair skinned and highly susceptible to skin cancer. Living in southern California does not help either. The surgery was successful and after one year and several cortisone shots one can barely tell my dad had a chunk of flesh taken out of his face.

My dad did however have one problem with his treatment process. It wasn’t the hospital facilities or the painful tending to his wound every night after the surgery. Instead his biggest issue with the whole experience was that his doctor rarely talked during checkups. During the whole process I remember him constantly bringing up how the doctor would come in the room, examine him and then most often leave without uttering a single word. When my dad tried to ask him how everything is going he would nod and mutter inaudibly under his breath. The only words the doctor ever said to my dad involved what he was going to do and that my dad had to make another appointment with his secretary. The nurse was responsible for informing him why they were doing surgery and providing background information on this form of cancer. My dad was really turned off by his doctor’s lack of enthusiasm and transparency. I was shocked that a doctor, whose job it is to form a bond with his or her patient and instill trust, would not share information face to face and instead use nurses convey reasoning for the treatment.


To me this kind of doctor seems to be of the old school type, those who believe you do what I say and everything will be okay. While many younger doctors focus on good bedside manner there remain many that practice old-fashioned principles. Granted my dad’s doctor is in his late seventies so he is most likely the byproduct of this archaic brand of practicing medicine. Nonetheless, this example draws attention to the necessity of doctor-patient communication. It is important not only that communication take place regularly but that the patient feels he or she is on a level playing field and can speak freely. The best way to ensure patient involvement is for the doctor to speak more often, using language that the patient can understand while having a pleasant and familiar tone. In this class we have learned a lot about how technology can enhance communication but it is vital we do not forget that quality care involves personal conversation that creates an atmosphere conducive to establishing trust.

Too Much of a Good Thing

A recent article published in the Argus Leader from Sioux Falls, SD highlights the difficulty that parents face in controlling their children’s internet usage. The article cites research by a distinguished pediatrician that determined social media can have a very negative impact on children. Heavy media use can be a detriment to a child’s health and social life. Therefore it is imperative that parents find a way to limit their child’s exposure to media on the internet and social media. Unfortunately many parents are not as savvy as their children when it comes to the internet so they do not understand the risks involved and potential consequences of excessive use. Nor do they know how to limit use or how much limitation is sufficient. Clearly children need to utilize the internet as a source of information and mental stimulation so it is crucial parents know where and when to cut down on internet use.

Some side effects associated with excessive exposure to the internet are lack of sleep and poor nutrition. Children need eight to ten hours of sleep a night and a balanced diet in order to develop properly and avoid health complications in the future. The internet acts as an escape and a distraction from normal life so kids these days spend more time indoors than ever before. They are also affected socially as interaction with others online hampers their face to face communication skills and ability to empathize. Substituting electronic for real life personal interaction leads to a poor understanding of facial expressions, tone and nuance in everyday conversation.


Due to these mal-effects of the internet on a child’s life it is imperative that parents limit online usage. As the author of the article points out, unfortunately parents do not understand the internet and mobile applications very well, often less than their children. Therefore, parents need to establish communication with the children in order to further their understanding and protect their children. This necessary role reversal makes for an interesting modern family dynamic.

As we move through this class trying to increase the use of mobile technologies and the internet to better patient care it is important to remember that there are physical and mental side effects associated with it. Every solution no matter how beneficial contains inherent negative side effects. We also need to understand that the baby boomer generation is not as well versed in technology as our generation. Therefore when designing solutions to issues in healthcare that involve the internet and media we must teach rather than simply provide. Overall tech literacy must be increased or else our solutions will remedy little and confound many.

Argus Leader Article:


Guided Medicine or Big Brother: A Thought Experiment

Self-tracking devices have been lauded as the potential solution to filling in the gaps in traditional clinical data collection.  Oftentimes, measurements in the doctor’s office are not truly indicative of the patient’s everyday behavior and lifestyle; patients may experience white coat syndrome, or increased anxiety in the presence of the doctor.  Automatic self-tracking in everyday living may provide more accurate data because the data is collected in more natural settings.

One of the goals of self-tracking is to model and predict human behavior.  This sounds quite promising; however, how does this automated self-tracking actually come about?  Would we want our personal handheld devices to predict our next moves?  And what a fascinating thought experiment it would be to have our phones, these inanimate devices, give us life suggestions.  But oh wait, they do.

Google Now carefully watches its users’ every interaction to improve its efficacy.  It can predict where you will go judging by your past behavior.  It can detect that on Wednesdays, you like to get a Grande green tea frappe at Starbucks before your Russian literature class, and sometimes, when you’re having a particularly packed week, you treat yourself and venture into the bold Venti end of the spectrum.  While Google Now has the potential to notify you if there is a promotion on green tea frappes, it may suggest another drink perhaps, and as a subtle suggestion, a drink with fewer calories and a lower fat content.

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Popular Science awarded Google Now as the 2012 “Innovation of the Year” for its potential to serve as an “intelligent personal assistant.”  It can infer your age bracket from your recent searches and tailor advertisements to your curated predilections.  For your mother, it can suggest her favorite hair dyes or jewelry boutiques, but what if one day following her sixtieth birthday, it begins suggesting cholesterol medicine and life insurance?  While this teeters on the edge of being mildly insensitive, it may regrettably be a sensible recommendation.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Google Now has a minute-by-minute map of your life.  Not only can it suggest nearby attractions and events, but it can also summarize your daily physical activity.  Given your latest late-night food adventures, it could now suggest restaurants with healthier vegetarian options.  It could also suggest a route that requires more physical exertion (to make up for that discreet donut run that you thought went undetected), and in your hurry, you wouldn’t notice that it was slightly more strenuous, with a steeper incline of about two degrees.

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Physicians have the potential to produce mobile health applications that use the same tracking devices as Google Now.  While they have the promise of displaying customized content and advertisements, they can also subtly suggest healthier eats and longer walking routes.  With smartphones constantly linking accounts and contacts, mobile health applications will soon be connected to the information collected by Google Now.  And suddenly, without your conscious awareness, you will be forced to be utterly and irrevocably healthy.

Instant Access to Yourself

With our constant obsession with technological advancements and the fashionable desire to be the first owner of the newest products, we must remember what we already have.  And this isn’t just a banal platitude about being grateful for what we have.  Even though the answers to the world’s problems seem to lie in the continued miniaturization of sensors and further embedded systems, have we forgotten what is already available to us?  Perhaps we should shift the focus from finding the most sophisticated devices to becoming more proficient with what already exists.

In the summer of 2013, I took a psychiatry course at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.  The course had the rather grandiose title: “Personal Brain Management,” yet that was exactly what the physician taught.  It turns out that by having a greater control of what we think and how we think can protect us from a wealth of illnesses.  The only technological advancement I needed to supplement my project was a thermometer, yet that was enough.

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My independent project focused on utilizing biofeedback for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  MBSR advocates that practicing mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress and promote greater mental and physical health.  By using a simple stress thermometer, I was able to increase my awareness of my body temperature.  While such a physiological marker may seem to be beyond our control, managing our internal thermostat is surprisingly possible. Roughly speaking, more relaxed states are correlated with increased body temperature, and the thermometer served as a means to quantify these changes.

With just a crude thermometer in hand, I was able to cultivate my relaxation response (in contrast to the familiar stress response).  At the end of a six-week trial, I found that I was better able to control my body temperature, and I scored significantly lower on a battery of stress measures.  For my project, I did not need a smartphone or the newest Nike product or the most sensitive sensors.  I needed myself and 30 minutes of my day.  And am I really so important that I cannot sacrifice the entirety of 30 minutes to myself?

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In our constant and desperate search for what is new, let’s not forget that we have instant access to ourselves.  While innovative electronic devices can help us organize data and take measurements, let’s not get carried away with their seemingly whimsical promises.  It is as much our duty to discover and invent as it is to make more effective use of what already exists.  By remembering that the first generation of iPhones was released in 2007, we become aware of the humbling reality that perhaps society can function without a supercomputer in hand.

While simple and sophisticated mobile health applications can encourage patients to become more empowered, decreased reliance on digital technology is in its own right just as empowering.  My project at UCLA showed me that I could become more self-sufficient and cultivate my body’s natural capacity to heal with a minimalist approach to technology use.


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