Jefferson's Bon Ku brings health design principles to his primetime TV debut - Technical.ly Philly

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Oct. 4, 2019 8:00 am

Jefferson’s Bon Ku brings health design principles to his primetime TV debut

The emergency medicine physician and Health Design Lab director is a featured doc on new medical diagnosis show "Chasing the Cure."
Jefferson University’s Dr. Bon Ku on “Chasing the Cure.”

Jefferson University's Dr. Bon Ku on "Chasing the Cure."

(Photo by Terence Patrick/TNT)

It looks like Dr. Bon Ku’s many, many, many on-screen speaking engagements were just warmups for his primetime debut.

Chasing the Cure,” a new medical TV series featuring the emergency medicine doc and head of Thomas Jefferson University’s Health Design Lab, diagnoses patients in real-time.

Anchored by journalist Ann Curry, the semi-live features a panel of doctors, including Ku, and crowdsources information from stakeholders — medical professionals, researchers, patients and caregivers — to solve misdiagnosed and undiagnosed cases. Viewers are able to weigh in on the doctors’ diagnoses live via social media, too.

“Chasing the Cure” is part of this larger effort in modern medicine to break down silos between different stakeholders: Online communities of patients and caregivers already exist in sharing patient stories and medical knowledge. To Ku, the internet has ushered in a new era for medicine.

“Historically, doctors have been the ones to control the data; doctors have been the experts. I think we’re missing a lot of experts out there — patients, I consider experts on their own disease, caregivers,” Ku said. “We’re just tapping into a desire among patients on how can they be more active in getting a diagnosis and understanding what the treatment options are for them.”

Patients suffering from unnamed diseases have a voice and an audience on “Chasing the Cure.”

“The best tool I have as a doctor is the patient story,” Ku said. “What this platform allows us to do is to tell that patient story to tens of thousands of people out there. It’s going to really change the paradigm of medicine.”

Ku’s background in health and design lends itself well to the show’s premise.

“My background in thinking like a designer and applying that to medicine has really helped me to understand the importance of getting a broad perspective that’s not only my own,” he said. “We emphasize in design the principle of empathy and that’s really understanding the emotional states of others. That’s key to medicine and this platform has helped me empathize with these patients with these hard diagnoses and their struggle to find a cure, their struggle to find a treatment.”

In a field where it is crucial to maintain privacy and protect patients, using social media in connection with medicine is a new endeavor. Instead of one doctor seeing a patient for a limited time, many brains are put to work for these difficult diagnoses. As in the hospital, the show aims to put the patients first and ensures that patients receive accurate information and are treated ethically.

Dr. Bon Ku (right) and fellow doctor panelists on “Chasing the Cure.” (Photo by Terence Patrick/TNT)

The crowdsourcing approach has had positive results, according to Ku. After speaking with multiple professionals about their symptoms and concerns, patients are finding hope and seeing previously elusive results. And the journey doesn’t end with the show: A team of medical professionals and social workers commit to following up with the patients, working on new developments, and providing the care they need.

A common theme among the patients featured on the show is that they struggled to get the proper care because they were limited geographically — one mother-daughter duo with previously unexplained vision loss traveled from Alaska for filming — or were not able to identify the right specialist. Crowdsourcing with social media has helped bridge the gap in those cases.

“It’s been a real joy to help connect those dots for these patients,” Ku said. The panelists have their own expertise, but are not the only experts, to Ku. Putting patient stories out there to the crowd is truly “where the magic happens.”

Chasing the Cure debuted in August. It airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on TNT and TBS and is available to stream at ChasingtheCureLive.com.

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