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Health 2.0 at SXSW

This post was written by Perrie Briskin.

South By Southwest (SXSW) is a massive three-part conference held in Austin, TX every March. This year, we attended SXSW Interactive’s health track, known as SXSWh.

SXSWh was a formidable collision of ideas, hopes, dreams, and action plans for how to utilize technology to make individuals — and America’s healthcare system — healthier. Attendees included leaders from the government, start-ups, start-up accelerators, insurance companies, hospitals, academia, and, of course, the tech industry.

“Changing behavior is the holy grail.”

Most of the health technologies featured at SXSWh tried to assist people in making healthier decisions. As the Chairman & CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, so aptly put it at his SXSW appearance, this is the “holy grail” for health professionals.

Here’s how technology is changing behavior:

  • Tracking and visualizing data so users can make informed decisions about their health.
  • Facilitating access to health information and medical professionals.
  • Socializing your data – so you’re accountable in real time to your friend, your mom, and your doctor simultaneously.

The Internet and the smart phone are still the most popular platforms for this technology. Apps such as Ginger.io, Massive Health’s The Eatery, and LoseIt, to name a few, are changing how we view our health.

Ryan Panchadsaram, Co-Founder of Pipette, said he has heard of a doctor prescribing mobile apps like these to his patients, and then holding those patients accountable by following the app data.

More fascinating, however, is when you break down the smart phone wall and start embedding this technology into everyday objects — like GlowCaps. This, more than anything, seems to be where the future is headed, as Amber Case attested to in her SXSWh keynote talk about the future of technological interfaces.

Data, Data, the Aggregation of Data, and, Did We Mention, More Data?

A key part of solving the behavior change puzzle is data. Right now, data is all over the place: one app has our diet data, another has our exercise data, and then we have data sitting in electronic medical record (EMR) programs across multiple doctors’ offices.

What was echoed at SXSWh again and again is that data needs to be aggregated in order to be truly useful. The challenge however, is how and by whom.

Our work with Anvita Health shows that institutions can start by translating data they already have into actionable information for consumers. This enhances health and behavior decisions by “presenting clinical data in ways that consumers can understand and use.”

Start-ups vs. the Health Care System

SXSW is a haven for tech start-ups. Unlike your average start-up, Health 2.0 start-ups can come up against very large, intimidating roadblocks like insurance companies, hospitals, government, and patient privacy laws.

The answer from those who have succeeded is, don’t let it stop you.  SXSW is a significant platform for start-ups and major health players to come together, but thankfully it’s no longer the only one. Code for America, Health 2.0, and efforts by city leaders like New York City’s Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Sterne, are now regularly pairing techies with large private and public organizations.

We’re Only at the Tip of the Iceberg

This is all just getting started! Ten years ago, there were no iPhones. Now I can tweet my weight. It’s all happening, but patience is still a virtue.

Some of the conference’s most interesting moments were comments from the few health practitioners in the audience. They would often ask, “This is all fine and good at SXSW, but how does this technology actually help my patients?” The answer was, largely, that it doesn’t — yet.

Other SXSW Wrap-Ups

Here are some other interesting SXSW health track wrap-ups worth reading:


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