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From petri dish to center stage patient leaders at HLTH

From Petri Dish to Center Stage: Patient leaders are in the spotlight at HLTH

“It’s time.”

It was a spot-on comment. One of many I took away from my conversation with Toby Peach when we met up recently in New York. He was in town from London and I was eager to hear his story.

Toby is a writer, actor and social justice activist. He’s also a 31-year-old cancer survivor who had to confront his mortality decades before anyone should. Among the many things we discussed was how he used his passion for storytelling to help him heal.

His one-man play, The Eulogy, was written after his cancer treatment. He refers to his health battle as a “discovery of self-mortality.”

The Eulogy was first performed in 2015, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Toby was awarded the 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award. It has since toured across England, as well as internationally, reaching more than 5,000 people through his poignant insights and disarming humor.

Like other gifted storytellers, Toby loves a good metaphor. As we were talking, he likened his cancer journey to “life in a petri dish.” He was under constant examination. He was isolated. And for what felt like an eternity, his day to day environment was as cold as it was sterile.

Creating The Eulogy was his antidote. As he described it, writing the story helped him move from life under a microscope, to life on center stage. A place where he could inspire others to think differently about their own lives and the curve-balls that get thrown at us.

Toby’s story hit me on a lot of levels. Not just viscerally, but professionally. When I started WEGO Health back in 2007, patient leaders doing incredibly important work spent far too much time in the petri dish and not nearly enough time on stage.

Today, it’s different.

Not only is WEGO Health’s network now more than 100,000 strong, it’s also increasingly common for patient leaders like Toby to take to the stage.

A case in point is coming up soon at this year’s HLTH conference in Las Vegas. HLTH’s founder, Jonathan Weiner, believes like we do that no conference designed for healthcare’s thought leaders would be complete without leaders from the patient and caregiver community on the stage.

This mutually held belief is why HLTH is partnering with us to bring the winners of this year’s WEGO Health Awards to the conference. Much to their credit, HLTH is covering their costs, including airfare, accommodations and conference admission.

We’re kicking off the three-day event with a gala reception and awards celebration the evening of October 28th. We’ll be joined by leaders from across the industry to honor patient thought leaders who work tirelessly to help others and transform healthcare. They include winners across 15 categories, from Rookie of the Year and Lifetime Achievement to Best of Show on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

The following day, patient leaders will take the stage again, this time at a lunchtime panel and roundtable discussion moderated by me. Our keynote speaker, Rolf Benirschke, is himself a patient leader.

A former star-kicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf was sidelined from the game following a Crohn’s diagnosis. He assumed his NFL career was over, but several surgeries later he returned to the game – this time toting an ostomy bag. Today, Rolf is CEO of Health Legacy Solutions, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping life sciences companies build patient centricity into their DNA.

A roundtable will follow Rolf, with patient leaders joining healthcare executives on stage for a discussion about ways to make patient collaboration real – across the industry.

Patient leaders will be on hand afterward to meet one-on-one with industry leaders and share examples of how they’ve worked with healthcare organizations, and where they see opportunities to strengthen these efforts.

This partnership with HLTH is a first for us. It’s also a model for others to follow. It’s one thing to talk about patient-centricity. It’s another to act on it.

HLTH has done that this year.

And they’ve done it for one reason: As Toby Peach said, “it’s time.”

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