Aspen Ideas: Health (previously Spotlight Health) is the opening segment of the annual Aspen Ideas Festival. The three-day health conference features an exceptional mix of inspiring and provocative experts who dive into topics of medicine and health. Attendees are surrounded by the wondrous peaks of Aspen, Colorado with plenty of opportunities for casual interaction, outdoor adventure, films, and other cultural offerings. Some 125 presenters, 80 sessions, and 1,500 attendees comprise the annual health conference, launched in 2014.
Continuing Medical Education for Physicians, Nurses, and Mental Health Professionals
Health has partnered with the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences at Eisenhower to offer Continuing Medical Education (CME), Continuing Nursing Education (CNE), and American Psychological Association (APA) credits for members of the medical community.
2019 Program Tracks
Frontiers of Health and Medicine
From robotics and artificial intelligence to paradigm-shifting insights, scientific breakthroughs of unprecedented power just keep coming. As human creativity is paired with the power of computers and the speed of automation, new treatments for rare diseases are emerging. Now that two female mice have been mated to produce a healthy baby, our understanding of reproduction is on the cusp of change. Cold chain capacity may revolutionize vaccine delivery to the poorest communities, and skeletal stem cells have potential to regenerate bone and cartilage. Could we also reverse diabetes? What’s in the lab, what’s moving to the bedside, and where do we go next?
Ethics, Values, and Health
Health is a valued resource in every society, rich and poor, urban and rural. But in the dynamic world of medicine, it’s not certain how that translates into the ethical decisions that individuals, health systems, and governments face. Arguments about the price of care and the interplay of politics and health policy touch the heart of conflicting belief systems. Who deserves access to treatment? How do we nurture trust between doctors and patients? What is the role of profit in research? Should costly scientific and technological advances be rationed? When resources are limited, societies fractured, and choices hard, we can’t expect to reach consensus about what is right and wrong — but together, we can confront these thorny philosophical questions.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock-and-Roll
When Life magazine wrote in 1969 that sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll were the sacraments of the counterculture, the article was describing three ingredients of great pleasure and acute danger. The phrase retains its double edge today, referencing advances in reproductive medicine, pain relief, and the healing power of music — but also declining fertility rates, substance abuse, and lyrics celebrating violence. Such contradictions are widespread. Even as opioids are becoming highly stigmatized, marijuana is a legal buy in many places and psychedelics are being studied to ease mental illness. People are having less sex, yet sexually-transmitted diseases are on the rise. Access to contraception remains a global battleground issue as #MeToo revelations roil sexual norms. How do we handle it all?
Power to the Patient
Consumers have more opportunities than ever to take control over their own health. An explosion in technology has generated powerful monitoring and diagnostic devices, while ready access to electronic health records and the proliferation of genetic tests offer new windows into our bodies. Direct-to-consumer advertising and social media platforms make it easy to act on all of that information. Meanwhile, redesigned health systems and global public health strategies are pushing patient-centered care forward, telemedicine is helping to ease worldwide workforce shortages, and the role of providers is being transformed. As consumers gain greater authority, are they equipped to accept the accompanying responsibilities? How do we share the benefits of the new tools more equitably?
Health and Wealth
Finance and health are among the fastest-growing sectors of the economy — in the US, they comprise more than 40 percent of GDP — and both are targets of innovation. They are also closely intertwined, with access to health directly correlated to economic status all over the world. The growth of the “gig” economy, high levels of debt, record income disparities, and challenges to retirement security all leave their mark on health. With economic structures in transition, entrepreneurs are linking up with care providers, health advocates are promoting microenterprise, and the role of public policy and human behavior is under scrutiny. What does the link between health and wealth mean for individual decisionmaking and social structures?
From Lifespan to Healthspan
For all of its challenges, the opportunity to grow old is a privilege not afforded to everyone. Still, the true metric of success is not merely the length of our years, but the quality of our lives. Many scientists think we are approaching the biological limits of life extension, even as medicine advances our capacity to regenerate worn-out body parts and preserve mobility and multigenerational models of caregiving promote independent living. Can we shift our goals from maximizing lifespan to seeking the longest possible healthspan? What does it take find joy despite the losses and limitations of aging? How do we live fully deep into old age?
Chronic inflammation has been linked to chronic illness around the globe — from heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease to colitis, Crohn's disease, diabetes, asthma, and autoimmune disorders. Although a short-term inflammatory response is a vital part of strong immune function, chronic inflammation can be a slow-moving bullet that targets and damages multiple body systems. The microbiome — hundreds of thousands of microorganisms that colonize the gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body — plays a key role in regulating inflammation, which has generated strong interest in the health of the gut. Can we nurture the microbiome ecosystem, sustain gut health, and keep inflammatory diseases at bay?
Mental Health: Out of the Shadows
Mental health has historically been a stepchild of any health care system, with stigma and neglect the signal response to its challenges. Thankfully, that is changing, bringing new hope to the hundreds of millions of people who suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, and other debilitating conditions. As scientific knowledge about brain health deepens, and global activism raises awareness, therapeutic options are being transformed by new drugs, public education, and community-based solutions, such as Zimbabwe’s “friendship bench.” In the US, insurers must now cover mental health services at the same level as other forms of medical care. Will new attitudes and better alternatives allow more people to get the treatment they need?
For information about underwriting opportunities for Health 2019, please contact Deb Cunningham by email or at (202) 701-7347.