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Here’s to the Problem-Solvers

November 3, 2016, 7:19 PM UTC

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Healthy Daily newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.

It is all too easy to fall into a pattern of problem-seeing. In a universe beset by entropy, we are ever confronted with stuff that’s breaking down, falling apart, or just never worked. And so it’s a rare treat to spend two days with brilliant and passionate people who aren’t so much fixated on problem-seeing as they are on problem-solving.

That’s what Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference felt like to me. My colleagues and I had built the two-day event in San Diego as a gathering of digital health revolutionaries. But what emerged on the stage, and in breakout sessions, and in the coffee-bar conversations in between, wasn’t a rebellion so much as it was a commitment to fixing and doing. The scale wasn’t always monumental, but the need to solve the discrete problems at hand invariably felt essential.

Krista Donaldson, of D-Rev, showed how one $80, high-performance artificial knee joint can transform a life—and it has already given new mobility to more than 7,000 amputees in some of the poorest of countries. Angela Baker of Qualcomm Wireless Reach and Asa Nordgren of Trice Imaging demonstrated how a portable ultrasound device—that can send scanned images into the cloud from virtually anywhere—can enable pregnant women in remote areas to be “seen” by a doctor.

“Every day, around the world,” said Baker, “800 women die from preventable causes that are related to pregnancy and childbirth—90% of them live in the developing world.” Fixable crisis? Got it. Enter two fixers.

Adam Gazzaley, a professor in neurology, physiology, and psychiatry at UCSF, showed how a clever video game—now in clinical trials—might be used to improve cognitive ability. “If you challenge the brain on multitasking, you can see improvements in other aspects of what we call cognitive control: attention and working memory,” he told the Brainstorm Health audience. Other games, he said, might diagnose or treat people with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, depression, and early Alzheimer’s disease. Said Gazzeley: “Instead of a doctor pulling out a prescription pad and only writing drugs, the idea would be that he could prescribe like six weeks of iPad play and be able to monitor that remotely.” Who said medicine has to taste bad?

I’ll offer a few more conference takeaways tomorrow. But then, it may be more fun watching it yourself—which you can do onFortune’s YouTube channel.