SXSW 2017: How Tech Is Transforming Healthcare


While healthcare has it’s nuances and regulations that make it its own industry, it’s important to consider how innovations in other fields can transform the way we explore solutions and understand health.
Since 1987, SXSW has ranged in both size and types of industries represented – year after year, panels on healthcare topics seem to grow in number and popularity as technology continues to play an important role in the evolution of patient care. This year, the health theme was certainly in the spotlight, with a number of the official “Health Track” sessions having been moved to the main stage venue of the Austin Convention Center.
In particular, two key focus areas emerged from the get-go: how consumer-driven technology trends can more tangibly be applied to address healthcare needs and what’s in store for the expanding role of technology in shaping the future of patient-centered care. Below we provide insight into a few of these healthcare trends that provide promise and inspiration for how technology can continue to serve as an empowering tool for healthcare providers and patients alike.
Remembering a Time When There Wasn’t “Ridesharing”
Hailing a cab (or better yet, scheduling one by phone in advance) may be a thing of the past for many city dwellers, but along with the increasing saturation of ridesharing options comes a new opportunity in the healthcare marketplace – an added option that may encourage consumers to take the next step for their personal health. Missed appointments cost the healthcare system about $150 billion a year; imagine how much money can be saved just by ensuring that patients actually get to the doctor’s office when they weren’t able to before. Take a non-emergency injury and, for just one person, the cost of calling an ambulance versus requesting a ride with the tap of a button could have significantly different financial implications and, potentially, be the difference between someone seeking medical attention or not at all, not to mention freeing up that ambulance for more critical emergencies.
Focusing in on the Power of Telehealth
With the expansion of telehealth and other emerging health technology, we are now entering a new healthcare delivery landscape. Advances in this type of technology are not only necessary, but have very clear practical applications when considering the geographic spectrum of our society. One such example is Orbis International, a non-profit, non-government organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide. Orbis uses its Flying Eye Hospital to not only provide high quality eye care and train local medical staff in developing countries, but to also provide education from the aircraft to virtually all corners of the globe. It leverages 3D technology and live broadcast capabilities enabling Orbis, with the help of volunteers, to train more doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals on new techniques for eye surgery, primarily in areas where there is little access to professional development. As telehealth continues to show real promise, this technology will only continue to evolve and expand into other areas of healthcare, helping to eliminate other preventable diseases and health conditions.
Viewing Virtual Reality as More than Just a Gimmick
Virtual Reality (VR) experiences continue to become increasingly accessible – both in availability and price point. Doctors are exploring how VR can potentially be used to reduce the opioid use to treat pain (the key point here is to reduce, not necessarily replace). Based on the theory that presence – which is what people feel when they step into a VR environment – can feel like reality, researchers have indicated that the immersive experience could have a profound neurobiological effect and future use in treatment in the areas of pain management and post-stroke rehabilitation.
Empowering Patients to Push Boundaries
Through the power of advanced technology, patients themselves have an opportunity to challenge companies to push boundaries for technological breakthroughs. Individuals like Melissa Stockwell, a former U.S. Army officer who lost her leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq, are pushing their physical limitations to not only reclaim their lives, but to also help transform technology for the greater good on a larger scale. Stockwell wears Ottobock’s X3, an advanced microprocessor prosthetic leg developed in collaboration with the U.S. military, which is equipped with technology that predicts the user’s movement and adapts the knee’s operation to match. The technology has helped Stockwell and other amputees fulfill accomplishments beyond their expectations – Stockwell herself took home a Bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. It is through these firsthand experiences that patients can help identify key areas for improvement in technology to help further bridge the gap between human limitation and human potential.
Wondering What’s Next for Wearables?
Wearables may have already become a worn out (no pun intended!) term, but a few showcases at SXSW indicate that there’s a wealth of opportunity ahead. Take “brain wearables,” which most commonly refer to electroencephalograms, or EEGs, which are sensors that detect electrical activity in the brain. While we currently don’t live in an age where everyday consumers are wearing brain wearable headbands, perhaps in the future we will. Paired with machine learning algorithms (being given the chance to learn and recognize data over time), EEGs can detect patterns of activity and analyze the location of where it is occurring in the brain. This technology exists today, and in one application it may mean that we can control the movement of objects, hands-free – Emotiv demonstrated this by having an audience member control the movement of a Bluetooth ball just by wearing one of its headsets. In a serious healthcare setting, it could also mean re-establishing a connection to society for patients with debilitating nervous system diseases such as ALS by providing them with a means of expressing themselves that is independent of any physical limitations they may have.
While healthcare has its many nuances and regulations that make it distinctly its own industry, it is important to consider how innovations in other fields, as explored by just a few demos and conversations at SXSW, have the potential to transform the way we explore solutions and understand health.

GCI Health forged a partnership with Hearst women’s title Redbook and online health information source The HealthiHER Project is an attempt to better understand the health habits of women 30-60 years of age. As a first step in the project, there will be a survey of women in that demographic, addressing their healthcare decisions and needs. The goal of the research is to give these women the information and inspiration they need to make healthier choices. “We’re excited to be working with Redbook and HealthyWomen to uncover some key insights that will help us better communicate with this important population,” said GCI Health CEO Wendy Lund.

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