by  Alexa Saltzman

South by Southwest 2019 Review—Healthcare Spotlight

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South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual two-week interactive media, technology, film, and music conference held in Austin, Texas. This year's conference had primary focuses in areas including Blockchain & Cryptocurrency, Cannabusiness, Health and MedTech, Intelligent Future, Tech Industry and Enterprise, and VR/AR/MR among many others. Many sessions are recorded, with audio files now linked on each session’s SXSW page. Several recordings can also be located on SXSW’s YouTube and SoundCloud pages.


Below are key takeaways from select panels relating to healthcare:

Wearable technology is on the rise and will generate massive amounts of data, but the handling of the data is still unknown.

Wearable technology is an exceedingly valuable asset in analyzing a person's health due to the collection of Real-World Data. The collection of Real-World Data (RWD) is information that is obtained without interference on a patient's life. Wearable technology makes the compilation of RWD more convenient for both the patient and provider, which in turn paints a more accurate picture of a patient's health outcomes, according to clinical trials. The belief is that RWD will create closer, more valuable connections between patients and their healthcare providers.

However, many questions are derived from this new form of data collection, such as:

  • Where is all of the data going?
  • Who has access to the data and how is it being used?
  • Do individuals own their data and can choose how it is accessed, or is it fair game for anyone to use however they want?

Wearable technology means that data is continuously collected in real time, so when a patient does have an issue, medical staff can review the information previously collected on the patient, rather than needing to wait six months between visits to record health changes.

Finally, as the costs drop, wearable technology is on the way to being democratized--and, as a result, is being adopted by more individuals. Additionally, wearable technology is evolving to collect more types of health information. Subsequently, we are going to need to find a way to distill the massive amounts of data collected into actionable information, perhaps by calling upon artificial intelligence.

The industry is still in the very early days of wearables. Regardless, this technology is clearly on the rise and will be a massive disruptor, especially in regards to preventative health. Most notably, wearable technology will be an integral part of helping individuals recognize and change their unhealthy behaviors and habits. 80% of health outcomes are due to actions taken outside of health facilities or the clinical setting. Tracking patient behaviors and encouraging healthier choices can lead to overall health benefits.

Patients want three things: quality, cost, and access.

The United States’ healthcare system was initially built around the needs and convenience of the provider, often displacing any burden onto the patient. However, patients do have a choice when it comes to their healthcare and who provides it. While the shift towards consumerism has already occurred in nearly every other market, it is just now beginning to reach healthcare in what appears to be a patient empowerment revolution. Patients are demanding a personalized approach to healthcare, which hits on how to service and charge patients.


People want health, not healthcare. People want to be people, not patients, and they want their healthcare providers to help them stay healthy. As both preventative and personalized healthcare is becoming more sought after, we can expect to see a continued rise in genetic profiling (i.e., 23andMe), home-based care (i.e., Hospital at Home), and demands for personalized nutrition.


As repeat visits for unresolved issues continue to increase, discussions on provider reimbursement have become more common. Outcome-based contracting in healthcare is one of the most talked about solutions. This contracting is "pay per performance," such that the healthcare provider is paid based on the outcomes of the overall treatment received, rather than the volume of services delivered.

Thought dictates that this type of contracting would financially motivate providers to take the time and effort needed to get to the root of a patient's issues and treat them appropriately. This method not only gets the patient healthier faster but also saves everyone money--expect perhaps the provider, who will take on the financial burden of multiple office visits and treatments, without reaching the desired health outcome.


While people are demanding more personalized medicine, they also want the ability to see their doctor as needed. People are waiting longer than ever to get in to see their providers, especially specialists. A patient’s need to be seen quickly gives value to concierge medicine, but does this not also widen the gap in accessibility to healthcare for lower earners who cannot afford concierge medicine?

How will artificial intelligence effect healthcare?

The integration of technology into healthcare undoubtedly lifts some of the burdens off of the healthcare consumer's three biggest concerns: quality, cost, and access. It is unquestionable that over time people will come to rely more heavily upon artificial intelligence (AI) in all areas of our lives, including healthcare. The FDA recently permitted the marketing of an AI-based device to detect specific diabetes-related eye problems. This advancement in healthcare technology has been met with mixed feelings--while many viewed this as a medical milestone in the ability to scale healthcare offerings, others expressed deep concern for how AI will make healthcare less personalized and human. Many speakers throughout the conference urged attendees to change the way they are looking at AI: instead of AI making us less human, we should consider how it might help us to make better choices, and, in fact, extend and scale our humanity.

There is one question that seemed to echo throughout all of South by Southwest AI tracks: how do we create bias-free technology? All technology is rule-based, which means that the biases of whoever is creating the technology will be encoded within the technology. How do we remove our preferences and morality from the picture?

Blockchain – how will it revolutionize healthcare?

Supply chain

In many countries outside of the US, validating components and quality of medicine is a logistical nightmare. Blockchain provides a huge opportunity to secure the supply chain and be more efficient at getting medication to patients with higher quality and reducing waste in the system (multiple billions of dollars of opportunity).

Patient empowerment and democratization of data

Blockchain has the potential to enable the patient to own their health care data and share (or revoke) who has access to this data. Data stored on the blockchain is accurate, up-to-date, and can speed up processes (such as payments). By incorporating user-generated data, patients can have a better picture of their holistic health and can better manage and understand their health, whether it is preventative health or management of a chronic condition.

Personalized medicine

Blockchain can provide populations with a trusted platform where data can be shared to empower researchers to get to the heart of disease and improve the drug discovery process.

Patient identification

There is a massive mismatch problem in linking records to the correct patients. Blockchain could match straightforward data sets to more complex pieces of data.

Additional areas of discussion during the conference include:

  • The continued integration of predictive analytics to preemptively identify at-risk patients and patient deterioration.
  • Machine learning (ML) will continue to make health care more effective and efficient, especially in identifying risks via imagining.
  • There is a greater need for disruptions in the electronic medical record (EMR) space.
  • Enable electronic health records to communicate between specialists while following all of the rules and regulations put in place by HITECH HIPAA.
  • A redistribution of spending in healthcare. No one is suggesting we put more money into healthcare (and frankly, we couldn't if we wanted to), but instead, we need to change where our current allocations are going.
  • Revolutionize medical training by both artificial intelligence and experiential learning (XR).

The following sessions have been included in the above evaluation:

  1. Next-Gen Technology Ignites Healthier Lifestyles
  2. Banking on Reshaping the Future of Health Care
  3. Reinventing Health Care Delivery
  4. The Future of Healthcare, Really
  5. Shifting Healthcare Costs Impact Provider and Patient
  6. Ethics and AI: How to Plan for the Unpredictable
  7. Beyond Reality: The Convergence of AI and Immersive Tech
  8. Social Determinants and Tech: The Double-Edged Sword
  9. Beating the Hype of AI in Healthcare
  10. Healthcare and Blockchain: A Practical Introduction
  11. Blockchain in Healthcare: Beyond the Hype
  12. Healthcare's Digital Disruptors: Hope vs. Hype