SXSW 2015 Recap—The Rise of Digital Health and MedTech

By: Dave Mihalovic, EVP, Experience & Innovation (3/26/2015)

This year marked a year of evolution for the long-standing SXSW Conference. From the eye of an annual attendee, it’s amazing to see how expansive it has become and how the expo environment is constantly shifting.

The most notable changes were new expos in health and education, as well as the overall growth of the Gaming Expo. And once again, a host of interesting and innovative new things ignited word of mouth support from a vast community of attendees.

Tinder-Ava Screenshot

Each year brings a number of breakout stars. From products to topics, this year was no different. Anyone attending SXSW heard about Meerkat the live video streaming app that allows you to Tweet video to your followers, signaling the future onslaught of similar apps that are about to hit the market. There was also the innovative use of Tinder for the new film Ex Machina, that featured Ava, a 25 year old woman that many fell in love with, only to find that she was just a promotion for the movie.

And wearables were the talk of the town, especially given the March 9 Apple Watch announcement. There were more than a dozen sessions dedicated just to new products and the application of wearables to solve life’s biggest issues.

In all the noise, however, one thing stood clear: Health and MedTech are here to stay.

How Health and MedTech Took Center Stage

In the past, Health was a quiet whisper at SXSW, searching for a voice in a crowd only concerned with the latest social platform or cool technology. This year, however, Health and MedTech were front and center. Changes in policy, coupled by technology advances that have the potential to change people’s lives, have moved Health into a more prominent focus.

But the question of adoption still stands, as healthcare institutions and hospitals are stuck in their old ways and apt to resist change. Mark Cuban, investor and co-star of ABC’s Shark Tank, was in attendance to emcee "Impact Pediatric Health." His take was right on the money, saying, “Hospitals and healthcare—right now they react and respond to regulations and insurance. That’s understandable, but I think technology is coming on so quickly that there’s a lot of opportunity for disruption.”

In all, more than 40 sessions were held from March 12 through March 17, with the MedTech Expo taking place the final two days of the conference. For me, there were three clear areas of innovation and focus:

1. Connected Health and Wearables

Rapid innovation and the availability of low cost hardware has given rise to a number of companies in this space. But the wearable conversation wasn’t just about monitoring biometrics through a device you wear on your wrist; rather, it was about how the practical application of connected and wearable devices can improve the patient experience, as well as improving a physician’s ability to treat, and ultimately, affect patient outcomes.

Ray Bradford, founder of Spruce Health, dedicated to simplifying the patient experience for acne patients. In the “Consumerization of Healthcare” panel, Bradford pushed the point home, saying, “Waiting forty minutes to see a doctor for five is no longer acceptable.” His company combines a mobile technology with an app that connects you to a board-certified dermatologist who is able to diagnose and prescribe acne treatment for the low cost of $40 (whether or not you have insurance). Best of all, you never have to leave your couch.

Mommy Kit

Another great example of a company transforming the patient/physician relationship is Babyscripts.This company offers a solution to OBGYNs for expectant mothers. Their “Mommy Kit” includes a Withings scale and blood pressure cuff that sync data with a mobile app. If any abnormalities are encountered, the Babyscripts app will send an alert to the OBGYN. The company’s data has shown a decrease in visits by four per patient, which gives the OBGYN more time to see new patients and solve more pressing issues. This also leads to increased revenue for the doctor's office. That’s an ROI story if ever there was one.

2. Social Health and Medicine

Social was a prevalent topic throughout a number of sessions in the Health Expo. These sessions primarily highlighted how the combination of technology and social media can, and must, impact disease management.

One emerging trend to note is that healthcare providers are now looking for alternative methods to help patients maintain compliance and manage their disease. One study showed that 88% of physicians want patients to monitor their health at home. And another study found that 30% of adults are likely to share information about their health on social media sites with other patients, 47% with doctors, and 43% with hospitals.

The opportunity this data presents is being capitalized on by several health startups, including Livongo, a company dedicated to reducing the impact of diabetes on the health system. CEO Glen Tullman (formerly CEO of Allscripts), notes that diabetes is the largest and fastest growing disease segment in the United States with more than $250 billion spent annually in treating and managing the disease.

Livongo’s vision is to reengineer the experience of managing diabetes through connected medicine. Their platform combines two-way connected glucometers with smart-cloud services, to analyze data and provide actionable insights to a virtual care team comprised of family, friends, coaches, and doctors. This means individuals now have access to support and information never before available. By providing a helping hand on a daily basis, this offering can help decrease patient costs and reduce visits to the doctor.

Curatio - Me & My Circle

Another company using social media as a method to transform healthcare is Curatio. Curatio provides what they call a social health “prescription” for patients suffering from a number of ailments. Their platform uses social and community in two ways: (1) by connecting patients who are willing to support each other, and (2) by curating the best social content to support better disease management. Combined with Rx adherence tracking and an in-app agent that answers questions on demand, the platform is poised to succeed.

3. Data and Analytics

The buzz around “big health data” can make one’s head spin. The most common conversation is centered on vast volumes of patient health data and the realization of the “quantified self.”

But another area of interest is gaining steam—the use of public and private conversational data to better understand how patients and doctors interact online, as well as physicians’ attitudes towards treatment.

Doctors are now using digital channels to influence other practitioners and patients themselves. One company, MDigitalLife has developed a data-based software platform that indexes more than 10,000 clinician online presences to 353 medical conditions across 34 medical specialties.

This health ecosystem database allows them to understand what topics are most prevalent in a disease category, who is driving the discussions across media channels, and what content is creating the most activation in a category. The platform provides real-time insights through two core products, BlueprintMD and MemeMD.

BlueprintMD provides a comprehensive understanding of online activity to help brands understand how they are perceived and by whom. MemeMD identifies who is truly influential and where brands need to focus to affect reputation and standing.

MDigitalLife’s growing index of physicians provides a real-time qualitative layer to traditional market research and segmentation. While some may argue the veracity based on the population density of physicians active in community media, the fact is, those who are active digitally tend to draw the most influence. And with about 40% of health consumers using social media to help inform their healthcare decisions, those doctors may find an active audience.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways

SXSW has become a notable stop on the health and wellness conference schedule. Drawing innovators, entrepreneurs, marketers, and pharma execs, it’s a premier event for networking and thought leadership.

As marketers, we are drawn to the event to understand where the industry is going and who the innovators will be as we look three to five years out. Our clients expect us to be not only aware, but connected to this community, in order to provide new insights and new opportunities that will impact their business. It’s our commitment to them, as an agency with a history of digital innovation, to always be inspired by new methods of thinking and ideas (and I’m sure it’s okay if we have a little fun at the Spredfast Party while we’re at it).