Saturday, September 06, 2008

Reflections on the Medicine 2.0 Toronto experience

One of the criticisms made during the bloggers panel was that instant reporting/blogging of this sort of conference doesn't give much opportunity for reflection. Therefore as I have some time before flying back to the UK and its raining today in Toronto I thought I would do some general comments on the conference and the wider experience, including some of the social events, of my trip to Toronto.

Travel and accommodation

Getting here was a long flight - with a sting in the tail. Work had booked me onto a FlyGlobespan flight as they have recently started doing direct flights from Bristol to "Toronto". A delayed take off was followed by a long period on the tarmac at Dublin to take on more fuel and passengers. The flight itself was fairly standard cattle class - and eventually arrived at Hamilton International Airport. I had no idea that it was so far from the city itself or that I would be landing on a bank holiday (Labour Day), and therefore many of the transport links were not working or were infrequent. Two buses and several hours later I arrived in Toronto and found the Delta Chelsea hotel - that largest hotel in Canada with 1700 rooms. The time zone differences meant that it was about 03.00 for my body but only 22.00 for the people around me! The hotel staff and just about every other Canadian I have met has been very friendly and welcoming and the city feels very safe.

Sightseeing & social

I spent a day wandering around Toronto while acclimatising. My second day was the highlight of my sightseeing as I'd book a guided tour of Niagra Falls with Toronto Tours. Judy the slightly eccentric guide/driver took a party of about 20 people along the (bumpy) expressway to the Niagra district giving a humorous, and possibly scurrilous, commentary along the way. We stopped at the picturesque (ie set up for tourists) town of Niagara on the Lake and wandered about before the coach drive towards the falls themselves. Several people were dropped off for a helicopter ride - but the cost of 100 dollars (about £50) for a 9 minute flight put me off. Those not on the helicopter went to the Whirlpool rapids before continuing to the town of Niagara Falls, Ontario, which is a bit like Blackpool on the lake but we had a nice buffet lunch at the Sheraton - included in the tour price. After lunch we got closer to the American falls and had a boat trip on the Maid of the Mist which takes you very close to the much larger Canadian Falls. This and the time for wandering, on this very hot day, gave me areal opportunity to try out my new camera & I took loads of pictures & some video of the falls from just about every angle. The ride back to Toronto was broken with a trip to Lakeview Winery for a tasting in the vineyard.

Back in Toronto Peter introduced me to the C'est What Brew Pub/restaurant to prepare for the conference itself. On the Thursday evening Peter and I were joined by Margaret Hanson (US) & Chris Paton (NZ) for a nice meal at a little restaurant close to the hotel and on the Friday a larger group eat in the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN Tower, which provided some spectacular views over the city and the lake while enjoying excellent company.


The conference was a great opportunity for academics and innovators from around the world to discuss and demonstrate the impact of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis and social networking, on medicine and healthcare.

Many of the participants were using the applications under discussion to share information and ideas, and I’ve never been to a conference where there was so much concurrent use of blogging, twittering and electronic social networking to embellish the face to face interaction a conference such as this provides – and share those thoughts with the rest of the wired world.

Despite the hype in the promotion for the conference many of the presentations were not that different from material being presented at similar health informatics events five years ago. The areas of potential and risk have been well rehearsed and were further developed at this conference with up to the minute tweaks. I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion on Methodological Issues and Challenges in eHealth Research with Judy Proudfoot, Lisa Whitehead and Caryl Barnes from Australia as many of their comments any observations were relevant to my own research. This emphasised the international nature of the issues and showed that many of us are grappling with similar issues. The NHS league tables and star rating systems were held up by Joan Dzenowagis from the World Health Organisation as shining examples – of how not to do it.

The most challenging and therefore useful, motivating and exciting session was by Maarten Den Braber and Jen McCabe talking about the Nexthealth model trying to look at healthcare in the future as far as Web 4.0. their ideas seemed as if they had arrived from Mars when compared with the earthbound work of some others. I will be following up their ideas in other fora (or planets).

The other fora which I have identified include:
* The conference social network on Crowdvine
* A discussion on Twitter
* Peter Murray blogging on
* Berci Mesko at ScienceRoll
* John W. Sharp
* Jen McCabe Gorman at Health Management Rx
* Neil Versel
* Kate Jongbloed

and Gunther has now uploaded all of his 800+ photos to Flickr (and would help labeling all the names.

All in all I found it a useful and stimulating conference and have just heard from Gunther that the evaluations were all very positive as well so hopefully we can look forward to a similar event next year.

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