TEDMED 2012 is a very different sort of event from the typical industry conference. No hour-long presentations by someone who has solved a particularly tricky clinical or business case or shares a rich depth of knowledge, this event is a compilation of brilliant intellect, inquiring minds, accomplished people in diverse disciplines, and well-staged performance art. It’s fast-paced and planned to move attendees beyond their comfort zones.

An extension of the TED (Technology, entertainment, and design) events, the common element at TEDMED is healthcare. And more precisely, improving healthcare on a global scale. Public health, tuberculosis, blood pressure, healthcare information exchanges, and a host of other challenges are being addressed.

Held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., TEDMED 2012 hosts 1500 attendees, here known as delegates. Over the course of three days, the short, lively presentations are designed to spark new ideas, but there is also an agenda.

Prior to the conference, TEDMED planners narrowed a list of healthcare challenges to 50. This year, they forgot one. Sleep deprivation. Now there are 51.

In addition to presentations related to the 51 challenges, an advocate represents each challenge and lobbies for support. At the end of the event, delegates will vote to further narrow the list to 20 challenges, on which TEDMED will focus in the upcoming year.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park set the stage for one advocate, sharing his praise for Cincinnati, Ohio’s healthcare collaborative. This is one among a small group of similar data sharing cooperatives, the “healthcare ecosystem” advocate says. I’m anxious to hear more.

There is no exhibit hall, per se. Fittingly, there is a big tent next to the Kennedy Center that also serves as a social space for delegates. Major sponsors have delegate-friendly spaces within the tent that invite exploration and convey innovation.

To demonstrate how designers might gain empathy for individuals with disabilities or who are older, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Nurture by Steelcase lets delegates don a suit that simulates physical restrictions. On loan from Ford Motor Company, the suit is designed to “age” the person donning the suit 30 years in terms of strength, mobility, vision and other tactile functions.