Dr. Leslie Saxon and Ed Saxon Speak on Science and Storytelling at AIHce EXP 2019

“We think in stories,” Edward Saxon told attendees during the closing session of AIHce EXP 2019 in Minneapolis. It was an unsurprising declaration given Saxon’s day job as a Hollywood producer whose credits include the critically acclaimed films The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. Stories are Saxon’s life, after all. But he went further, declaring that the thousands of industrial hygienists and occupational health and safety practitioners in the room had a facility with stories that they perhaps weren’t fully aware of, a hidden knack for narrative. “All of you here who aren’t in the storytelling business are remarkable experts in categorizing stories,” he said. “Thinking deeply about the stories we’re telling as we do our jobs is a way to be more fully effective.” 

Edward Saxon addresses attendees at the Closing General Session of AIHce EXP 2019. 

Saxon’s presentation was the latest example of a growing awareness that stories have an important role to play in areas not typically thought of as rich in narrative possibility. Scientists, in particular, are recognizing that storytelling is a useful tool in explaining their work to laypeople. For scientists whose projects depend on public funding, a good narrative about how their research helps humankind can keep the dollars flowing.

Effective storytelling may also be a solution in situations where an audience rejects scientific consensus. In this era of “fake news,” communications researchers are examining ways that scientists can better communicate with the public, and storytelling is an area of emphasis. Since 2012, the National Academy of Sciences has held three colloquia related to what NAS calls the emerging field of “the science of science communication.” Papers from these events are freely available online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and two papers in particular, from the second NAS colloquium, specifically address the use of narrative to convey science-related information.  

In “Using Narratives and Storytelling to Communicate Science with Nonexpert Audiences,” Michael F. Dahlstrom explains why narratives tend to be more effective with lay audiences than technical, “logical-scientific” explanations: 

[B]ecause logical-scientific communication aims to provide general truths as an outcome, the legitimacy of its message is judged on the accuracy of its claims. In contrast, because narrative communication instead aims to provide a reasonable depiction of individual experiences, the legitimacy of its message is judged on the verisimilitude of its situations. This difference confusingly allows logical-scientific communication and narrative communication with opposing outcomes to be judged with equal levels of “truth,” and partially explains why narratives can rarely be effectively countered with facts. 

Dahlstrom, a professor at Iowa State’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, goes on to enumerate the advantages of storytelling as a communication tool. These include narrative’s association with increased ease of recall and comprehension, benefits that are especially relevant for IHs and OHS professionals responsible for instilling safe, healthy behaviors in workers.  

But these benefits can work the other way, too: false or misleading narratives are difficult to supplant once they’ve been accepted by an audience. Writing separately in PNAS, Julie S. Downs of Carnegie Mellon University cautions that “narratives have a greater potential to convey biased information, given their high emotional impact and limited ability to provide citations.” 

Dahlstrom’s observation that a good story often trumps facts is a key theme in the 2017 NAS report Communicating Science Effectively. The communications experts who contributed to the report argue that people make decisions based on a variety of things, not just science, and that most people accept information that is consistent with what they already believe. Facts matter, but facts alone aren’t enough. 

IHs and OHS professionals who want to use storytelling in their training initiatives or other communication efforts should be aware of some of the difficulties associated with narrative. Stories intended to sway behavior can backfire if the persuasive intent is obvious, Dahlstrom explains. Similarly, Downs writes that stories featuring worst-case scenarios can undermine an audience’s trust.   

But the potential benefits of storytelling suggest that narrative is a technique worth exploring for science communication, not only (in the case of IH) to influence workers’ behaviors but to help the wider public understand the value of the profession. Frank Sesno, an Emmy-award-winning journalist who moderated the third NAS colloquium, made a point that holds true for all scientists but especially, I would argue, for industrial hygienists: they have great material to work with. “A great story is compelling characters overcoming obstacles to achieve a worthy outcome,” Sesno said. “That’s what science is. It’s compelling characters—people in the labs, people in the field, people all over—overcoming obstacles—of the unknown, of every economic and financial sort—to achieve a worthy outcome—to gain knowledge and to move humanity forward. If we can’t tell stories from science, we can’t tell stories from anyplace.” 


Top of Mind With Julie Rose

Patient compliance plagues doctors creating issues of increased healthcare costs (sporadic pill consumption equals ineffective health care), complications (longer recovery time), or even death (life critical medication). Digital health uses smart medical devices to solve these issues using sensor technology, the size of a grain of rice embedded in pills, to deliver real-time feedback and prod patients to ingest their medicine. 

The Decline Of Health Care, The Rise Of LifeCare: Digital Health 2018 Annual Body Computing Conference

The Decline Of Health Care, The Rise Of LifeCare: Digital Health 2018 Annual Body Computing Conference



Hosted by the USC Center for Body Computing, the conference highlighted findings from two landmark studies and addressed how to protect digital health data. 

What do Marines trying to make it through boot camp and senior citizens trying to make it to a medical appointment have in common? They both can benefit from digital health tools, according to digital innovators at the 12th Annual Body Computing  Conference. 

Dr. Leslie Saxon, MD, founder and executive director of the CBC, said in opening remarks at the conference. “It requires a cultural change to commit to designing products that put individuals’ needs first and that are flexible enough to cover them, 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

How Tech Can Measure Marines’ Success

The Marine Corp’s Basic Reconnaissance Course, a grueling, 120-day training program rife with physical and mental challenges, is notorious for its high dropout rate, which hovers around 80 percent. An ambitious study led by the CBC is looking to digital health tools to identify what personal traits determine whether a Marine makes it through. Using Apple watches and smartphone apps, the CBC’s research team collected continuous physiological, behavioral and psychological data as trainees attempted to pass the reconnaissance course at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Preliminary results showed that Marines who dropped out for safety reasons appeared to be less physically fit, while successful trainees remained optimistic throughout their training despite significant physical strain.

Seniors Get A Health Boost From A Ridesharing App

For senior citizens, a lack of transportation can be a barrier to receiving the medical care they need. Solving this health disparity is the goal of a CBC study sponsored by the AARP Foundation that connects senior citizens with free Lyft rides around Los Angeles. Preliminary data showed that the majority of seniors who used the ridesharing service reported a significant increase in the frequency of medical and social visits. Seniors who wore Fitbits during the study also had a significant increase in the number of daily steps.

Protecting Digital Data From Cyber-Security Threats

Digital health cyber-security took the spotlight when Saxon, who is a member of the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development’s Health IT Advisory Board, presented the board’s recommendations on how to safeguard digital health data.

The board’s white paper, “Cyber-security in Healthcare: How California Business Can Lead,” is a first step toward establishing cyber-security best practices within the state to prevent potential exploitation of digital health care data.

Suggestions included training workforce in cyber-security, educating patients about cyber literacy and developing standards for the ethical use of medical information.

About the USC Center for Body Computing

The USC Center for Body Computing (CBC) is a digital health research and innovation center that is creating technology-driven healthcare solutions for a modern age. Collaborating with inventors, strategists, designers, investors and visionaries from healthcare, entertainment and technology, the CBC serves as a national leader on digital health and wearable technology. One of the nation’s first university-based centers to focus on digital health solutions, the CBC was founded in 2006 at the Keck School of Medicine of USC by Leslie Saxon, a USC-trained cardiologist, and internationally renowned digital health expert.

“No Silent Night as Hackathon Teams Compete in ‘Voice Assist for All’ Event”

Raising our voices for equality and empowerment took on a whole new meaning last month when digital health entrepreneurs gathered in Playa Vista at USC’s Tech Campus to hack the night away in a unique 30-hour competition created by USC Center for Body Computing (USC CBC) and the WITH Foundation.

The purpose of the event was to design an app based on Voice Assist technology provided by Amazon and Google using Orbita’s sandbox trial voice software solution that supported two special populations: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and aging seniors. The competition challenged the multidisciplinary teams to create universal design concepts so those with hearing or speech difficulties could utilize this omnipresent technology in their lives. Today, more than 40 million people use voice search or assist daily. By 2020, analysts predict 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.

These numbers could be even higher if special needs populations were not excluded from the design and functionality of this technology as it evolves. According to WITH, 4.7 million people in the U.S. live with IDD and the CDC reports 1 in 4 Americans have a disability. In addition, AARP and Oxford Economics reported that 111 million people are currently over age 50 and by 2050, the 50+ crowd will represent 40 percent of the total population. We also know that statistically hearing loss starts to begin in our 30s and 40s and more than half of the hearing impaired population are of working age.

Taking all these considerations into the design process is what the WITH Foundation with USC CBC’s help is trying to achieve.  

Dr. Leslie Saxon, who founded the USC CBC and serves as its executive director, calls this effort “building the digital health ramp” much like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) built actual ramps for our special needs population 28 years ago.

Design for All

Universal design is not a new idea – its purpose of aiming for the triple As (Accessible, Adaptable, Assistive) can be found in automatic doors, bendable straws, velcro shoes (ease of use for seniors and toddlers), dropped sidewalk curbs (giving accessibility for both wheelchairs and baby strollers), eReaders and tablets for those ages 18 months to 88 years and the ubiquitous OXO Good Grips home utensils (carrot peelers, coffee pots and more).

While Silicon Valley and other new technology designers and developers create functional products and services, addressing broad consumer needs through universal design is not always on their checklist. According to Ryan Easterly, executive director of the WITH Foundation, it should be.


And the winner is…Amplify

While the five hacker teams who were chosen from among 30 entrants all had exceptional concepts, the expert judges – which included representatives from USC CBC, WITH Foundation, AARP Foundation and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) – chose Team Amplify.

By focusing their winning idea on using voice assist in an innovative and impactful way to deliver a gamification concept and interactivity for speech therapy to children with cerebral palsy, Team Amplify delivered on the Hackathon’s promise to amplify voice assist development efforts to design for all!

Read more about Amplify’s winning entry and watch the event video here: 


IoT Podcast Episode 157: Why Foxconn is buying Belkin and the future of healthcare

After the news segment, I interview Dr. Leslie Saxon who heads up the Center for Body Computing at USC, who believes that we’ll soon get 80 percent of our healthcare virtually. She talks about what we’ll need to make that happen and offers up a unique idea—a virtual version of herself that uses AI to provide basic care in her image and demeanor. The implications of all of this are pretty big, so we dig into two of the big ones; privacy and how it changes the relationship individuals have with healthcare. You’ll end up doing a lot more work. It’s an eye-opening episode.

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Creating a Culture of Trust in Digitally Enabled Patient Care

Security breaches become more personal and dangerous as digital technology increasingly integrates with our bodies via wearables, prosthetics and medical devices. Yet, perhaps the single biggest risk to the health of future generations—even greater than the breaches themselves—is a paralyzing lack of trust in the care-delivery ecosystem. We could have the most secure digital technologies for patient care, but, if people do not trust them, they will retreat to lesser methods of care.

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Cybersecurity risks and patient benefit with remote monitoring of cardiac rhythm management devices: considerations and current policy.

Led by Dr. Leslie Saxon, this activity has been developed to raise awareness through the insights of leading governmental and other cybersecurity experts who provide reviews surrounding the current and future direction of medical technology cybersecurity for increasing standards of patient care. The webcast is comprised of proceedings from an accredited satellite symposium held during Heart Rhythm. Catch her session via webcast...

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SXSW Announces Their 700+ Sessions and Special Blockchain Programming for SXSW 2018

We’re excited to introduce the lion’s share of SXSW Conference programming with over 700 sessions announced as well as the launch of the 2018 SXSW Schedule. Also announced, the Center for Body Computing's Executive Director, Dr. Leslie Saxon will be a featured guest speaker alongside Beau Woods (Atlantic Council) and Michael Chertoff (The Chertoff Group) discussing "Body Computing, Security, & Human Safety". View the link here and don't miss out on your opportunity to experience this exciting session!

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3 ways USC is using virtual care to capture a broader range of patients.

The University of Southern California’s medical school is taking on several efforts to digitize medical care while ensuring new technology is useful and available to more patients. Using mobile apps, sensors and virtual care, the USC’s Center for Body Computing and the Center for Health System Innovation are targeting new technology that makes care more accessible for patients. Those efforts include input from digital design experts who oversee patient engagement factors like computer literacy, trust and access to devices, executives at the USC Keck School of Medicine wrote in NEJM Catalyst.

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The most anticipated slide deck of this year is here! Mary Meeker’s 2017 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker is delivering her annual rapid-fire internet trends report right now at Code Conference at the Terranea Resort in California. Here’s a first look at the most highly anticipated slide deck in Silicon Valley. This year’s report includes 355 slides and tons of information, including a new section on healthcare that Meeker didn’t present live.

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