5 TED Talks for Future Health Lawyers

Articles | Online Master's in Health Law and Policy

Medical researchers have engineered previously unimaginable innovations. However, these innovations sometimes result in conflicts among various stakeholders. Nevertheless, most parties agree that the best innovations make giving and receiving care simpler and more effective. Such ideas originate through understanding the real problems that care providers and consumers need to solve.

Truly impactful medical ideas do more than address or solve symptoms; they serve to mend the problems behind the symptoms. Some involve entirely new concepts, while others reimagine existing processes. In this spirit, the following 5 TED Talks reveal unique perspectives delivered by a few of today’s boldest leaders in health care law.

Talk 1: Ellen ‘t Hoen: Pool Medical Patents, Save Lives


In medicine, the same patents that protect proprietary ideas can also make cures inaccessible. To remedy this, Ellen ‘t Hoen, founder of Medicines Patent Pool, strives to balance commercial and public interests.

In her talk, she discusses a Kenyan social scientist and his son who could not access HIV treatment due to financial and geographical restrictions. Because of this hardship, the father was inspired to advocate for HIV positive individuals. Eventually, his group gained access to critically needed treatments, but was only able to do so by exploiting lax international patent enforcement policies. Today, patent regulations from the World Trade Organization (WTO) seal this loophole, enabling individuals like Hoen to prescribe patent pools that give patients access to lifesaving treatments.

Talk 2: Dorothy Roberts: The Problem With Race-Based Medicine


Social justice advocate and legal expert, Dorothy Roberts, delivers an emotionally charged talk that exposes the remnants of racial profiling in medicine and urges listeners to do their part to intervene. Roberts begins by revealing a personal event that happened 15 years ago. During a presentation of a research study, she was given a questionnaire that started by asking questions about ethnicity. This and similar experiences led her to contemplate how much racial bias permeates the scientific community. Roberts, a respected legal scholar, learned that medical racial profiling was more prevalent than she imagined. She explains that this practice is, and should be, personally disturbing to everyone, and that its bias is a factor in promoting false outcomes and in skewing scientists’ understanding of humanity as a whole.

Talk 3: Mary Bassett: Why Your Doctor Should Care About Social Justice


Mary Bassett witnessed the effects of the 1985 Zimbabwe AIDS epidemic personally and admits regret at not drawing attention to prevailing economic, political and social injustices. In this TED Talk, Bassett calls on listeners to summon the courage to combat modern medical racism.

Bassett, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, explains why medical professionals must care about racial equality.

She recounts feeling honored to participate a historical movement that would change the medical and political environment in Zimbabwe forever. Despite her best efforts, she felt unprepared to manage what she, along with many others, later determined was a systematic system of genocide during which influential parties intentionally marginalized the threat that the AIDS epidemic posed to minorities. For instance, there were many pregnant women working at sugar plantations to pay off property debts that would pass to their children for generations. 60 percent of these women tested positive for the HIV virus. During this time, colonial reign, forced labor, male dominance and White superiority prevailed in Zimbabwe. In this environment, common sense approaches that were available to care providers, such as condom use and monogamy, were largely ineffective. Despite the obvious impact these circumstances produced, Bassett kept quiet.

In applying this narrative to modern medicine, she goes on to report that some care providers discriminate against ethnicities and genders as well as symptomatic groups of victims that suffer from stigmatized conditions such as AIDS and Ebola. Bassett vows to speak out against racism and encourages others public health professionals to do the same as part of their fiduciary duties.

Talk 4: Shareen El-Feki: HIV – How to Fight an Epidemic of Bad Laws


In this talk, Arab sexuality expert, Shareen El-Feki, explains how cultural biases in health care — such as legislation in Africa that criminalizes HIV victims — promote bad medicine. The British journalist recounts a patient that was subjected to blood tests without explanation or consent. Three weeks later, officials deported the man for testing HIV positive.

El-Feki says that today, no less than 50 countries impose and practice such policies, violating international human rights laws. He notes that modern preventative practices make this bias even more unacceptable. El-Feki expresses that illnesses such as HIV come with an extra human dimension, because they reveal and are a consequence of, our true individual nature. This ‘human nature’ often influences court rulings, law books and law officials for good or bad.

Talk 5: Tania Simoncelli: Should you be Able to Patent a Human Gene?


Less than 15 years ago, patents barred medical researchers and others from researching specific genes. This prompted Simoncelli and her colleagues at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) into action. While proponents claimed the patents covered only isolated genes, ACLU members pointed out that they restricted open research and additionally implied that they limited certain medical tests because consumers might need to acquire permission for them.

Despite forebodings from general legal counselors, health experts, patent legal counselors and medical researchers that the group would fail to prove their case, they succeeded in barring gene patents through a Supreme Court decision. Simoncelli admits that the undertaking was risky, and the group never imagined the overwhelming victory they eventually achieved.

Moving Forward: Health care and the Law

The 2016 Bloomberg BNA annual review titled “Health and Law News” reveals there is much legal wrangling in establishing telemedicine laws. The review also shows that significant care providers are facing antitrust reviews. Factors that are driving these antitrust reviews include the impact of mega health networks that have risen out of the acquisitions and mergers of the new value-based health care marketplace. Additionally, health information technology (HIT) officers must learn to properly manage massive data stores, while continuing to protect patient privacy.

Given its nature for rapid change and innovation, the medical field will likely undergo substantial legal exposure in areas such as Big Data management, data security, HIPAA compliance, interoperability and nontraditional data sources. For these reasons, care providers will need to lean on health care law professionals to navigate liabilities, data breaches and other issues.

Learn More

To learn to speak the language of health law and distinguish your role as a leader with specialized health care compliance expertise, look to pursue a Master in Health Law and Policy from Hofstra Law.

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