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SXSW 2016: The Takeaway….and the Tacos


March 16, 2016

By Rachael Schwartz, Vice President

Howdy! Heading back from the whirlwind of SXSW 2016, or as veteran attendees simply call it, “South By.” As a SXSW newbie, the energy and excitement can be a bit overwhelming, but I did my best to focus on the missions at hand:

  • Uncover the latest in digital health
  • Pinpoint the critical role(s) of communications in the advancement of healthcare

Of course there was a lot to sidetrack my intentions. The event was chock-full of great talks from once-in-a-lifetime keynotes (including President Obama and Brene Brown), fascinating installations and exhibits (IBM Cognitive Lab, 3M exhibit, Save the Inventor), and not to mention, all the yummy food.

Yet, with all that said, I spent most of my time within the Health & MedTech track. Although it’s still relatively new to the Interactive side of SXSW, the Track managed to attract thousands of attendees, including executives all across the healthcare continuum—from digital health and health tech companies to forward-thinking HCPs and leading patient advocates who embrace social/digital—as well as a few pharma companies looking for their voice in this arena. There were talks showcasing the latest in:

  • Medical apps
  • Digital health devices and medicines
  • Regulation and guidelines
  • Bioelectronics
  • Robotics
  • Chronic disease management
  • And so much more…

As you can imagine, the passion and excitement around new digital health advances was truly palpable. In fact, presentations like “The Future of Medicine: Where Can Tech Take Us?” given by Stanford and Harvard trained physician-scientist, Daniel Kraft, MD, showcased a litany of various digital health tools (from wearables to ring’ables and even hear’ables). While Dr. Kraft ran through the tools that we have come to know and accept into our vernacular (e.g., fitness trackers, e-watches, e-stethescopes and e-otoscopes), he also presented a robust rundown of the lesser known, Jetson-ish products that were either deep into development or just introduced in the marketplace. Of course, there were “Oo’s” and “ah’s,” even laughter at times around the preposterous products, but by the end of his rundown, it became clear that digital health tools are absolutely making waves by gaining major attention among consumers, and more importantly, there is definitely no turning back now.

Upon reflection on Dr. Kraft’s talk and many others through the course of the three-day conference, there seemed to be a common thread and similar spirit—super-duper excitement mixed with pain-staking void. Let me break that down. There is no doubt that healthcare technology innovation has exploded in remarkable ways, but there also seems to be a climax for most of these products when they are hit with a major buzzkill. This reality-check moment points to a clear gap between innovative hardware and the way our current evidence-based healthcare organizations are built to understand its value.

The message was loud and clear during “Imagining the Future of Personalized Medicine,” which featured top execs from Proteus Digital Health and Chrono Therapeutics that we need to go way beyond medical apps, and truly converge hardware, software, analytics, and therapies/medicine in order to deliver real impact with personalized healthcare. These speakers also pointed to the mass confusion that has been created among today’s consumers through the availability of health apps. Proteus’ Chief Product Officer, David O’Reilly, even said, “We are doing a really good job at confusing our patients. No wonder we aren’t getting the outcomes we want.” He continued, “It is time for the industry to focus on creating actionable insights.”

SXSW 2016 showed me that there has been tremendous work done to build a solid foundation for digital health, and now it is time to take it to the next level. But in order to complete the circuit (pardon the tech pun) and realize the real power of digital in our healthcare world, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done across and among all healthcare delivery stakeholders. This means not only will payers, providers, and even drugmakers need to adapt current mindsets (and ultimately structures) to accommodate new ways of looking at evidence, but technology innovators will need to demonstrate clear value and greater opportunity for integration among existing (approved) systems, products, etc.

This is truly an awesome time in healthcare and communications is at the heart of ensuring a steady heartbeat internally and externally across the industry. In order to get to this next level, we need to effectively communicate with one another to better understand the needs of each stakeholder and then ultimately build bridges to ensure alignment towards our mutual goals and objectives. Let me be clear, there is no time to pause here otherwise the moment will be realized by others. Keep moving in the right direction, build on the excitement and energy in this space, and in the end, we will achieve what we are all after in this industry—healthier and fuller lives of our customers.

Thanks for the memories and the insights SXSW!