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Looking Back on AIHce EXP 2019

​By Ed Rutkowski

Each year at AIHce EXP, Synergist staff attend a number of sessions, gather copious notes, and publish as many articles as time allows about the things we learned. But deadline pressures and the editor’s pen ensure that not everything we find interesting or enlightening about a presentation makes it into our conference coverage. 

So instead of a conventional conference wrap-up that summarizes what we’ve already covered, I thought I’d share some of the things that haven’t yet seen the pixilated light of digital publication. The snippets below contain some information that, for one reason or another, wasn’t included in this year’s AIHce Daily.

Recap: “Late-Breaking Session Addresses 2018 Nerve-Agent Attack”
On Monday, May 20, John Koerner of the Department of Health and Human Services and Jennifer Hornsby-Myers of NIOSH shared what they had learned about the dangers of fourth-generation nerve agents following a deliberate March 2018 poisoning in Salisbury, England. The attack was an act of retribution against Sergei Skirpal, a Russian double agent. Emergency responders were summoned to a park where Skirpal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped and seizing on a bench; noting their pinpoint pupils, the medics assumed the Skirpals were suffering from an opioid overdose and administered naloxone and diazepam. Only days later did doctors and law enforcement officials establish that the Skirpals had been poisoned with an FGA, a kind of chemical that is difficult to detect.

The delay meant that a widening circle of unsuspecting medical professionals and police officers had potentially been exposed to FGA residues on the patients. This realization set in motion what Koerner described as an extraordinary field sampling plan. Medics and police who responded to the Skirpals had worn their possibly FGA-contaminated clothes while riding in police cars, ambulances, buses, and then their own vehicles, all of which needed to be sampled in case they contained trace elements of FGA. The number of vehicles that were eventually sampled is believed to be in the thousands (the U.K. government wouldn’t provide a number, Koerner said). Many of the police cars and ambulances were disposed of—shrink-wrapped and buried in a properly lined bed in a secluded section of a landfill.

Read our full recap.

Recap: “Researcher Sketches Grim Outlook for Fight Against ‘Superbugs’”
On Tuesday, May 21, presenter Aurora Le, a researcher from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, argued that the already alarming number of deaths caused by organisms resistant to prescription drugs is likely to rise unless significant resources are directed to address the problem. The topic may have been grim, but Le’s lively presentation infused the material with warmth and humor, and her thought-provoking asides gave attendees plenty to ponder.

For example, while discussing one cause of antimicrobial resistance, the overprescribing of antibiotics, Le mused about the possible cultural motivations for this practice. As Americans, she said, we’re brought up to expect solutions on the spot. This attitude could be partly to blame for many doctors’ insistence on scheduling as many patients as possible in a given day, and Le wondered whether some doctors may have felt pressured to prescribe antibiotics to patients demanding some form of treatment.

Healthcare workers’ culture may also play a part in undermining infection control practices: busy nurses pressed for time often opt for hand sanitizers over proper scrubbing with soap and water, but alcohol-based sanitizers can actually cause the spores within the antimicrobial-resistant bacteria Clostridioides difficile to proliferate.

Read our full recap.

Recap: “Cardiologist Paves the Way for Virtual, On-Demand Healthcare”
At the Closing General Session on Wednesday, May 22, Dr. Leslie Saxon discussed her efforts to bring about a digital transformation in the way healthcare is delivered. Saxon is a cardiologist, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, and the executive director of USC’s Center for Body Computing. She discussed several CBC projects, including the organization’s work with the U.S. Marines, who wanted to know if data could predict which of the recruits to their elite reconnaissance battalions would, and wouldn’t, complete their extremely demanding training regimen.

Of each class of 1,000 recon recruits, only 200 complete their training, Saxon said. The Marines were understandably interested in improving that ratio. The training involves all manner of physical and mental challenges; Saxon spent three years learning about the recruits’ needs and found that she could leverage the amount of time they spent with personal technology “to try to understand what makes successful training.” The 24/7 monitoring provided by Apple Watches provided data that allowed Saxon’s team to determine ways to predict which recruits would quit and why.

Read our full recap.

For full conference coverage from The Synergist, see the AIHce Daily page. And please use the comments section below to share interesting anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom you gained from AIHce EXP 2019.



Ed Rutkowski​ is editor in chief of The Synergist.

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