Health is a Growth Industry at SXSW

Jane Sarasohn-KahnBy Jane Sarasohn-Kahn
Twitter: @healthythinker

Health is the hot topic at SXSW. While edgy new movies and hot music are the foundational elements of the annual South-by-Southwest festival, health and health care are the fast-growing themes at the meet-up, where the new-new, month-old beautiful JW Marriott Hotel by the Convention Center hosted most of the digital health track sessions.

Digital health today goes well beyond mobile apps and genomic futures. Philips was a major presence this year at SXSW with its vision, shared by me, THINK-Health, and the HeathcareDIY team, of connected health where we live, work, play, pray and learn. In the case of Philips, the company supports many of these venues in- and outside of the legacy health care system — that is, hospitals and doctors’ offices, where Philips has a long history as a trusted brand for professionals using digital imaging modalities and medical devices.

Philips’ commitment to health, everywhere, could be found both inside hotels and the convention center, and on the street, where the company parked a health van a block from the center where “smoothinistas” concocted up some healthy drinks – green and red – distributing them to the thirsty walking hordes returning and leaving the convention HQ. Thus the tech company is connecting dots between food and health…music to our DIY + health ears. The infographic comes from Philips, and exemplifies its current enthusiasm and branding for a broad health message.

SXSW is over-populated, to be sure…Austin’s infrastructure has been challenged with absorbing the throngs of folks meeting up to celebrate interactive, music and film tracks. And the panels inside the buildings reflect the overpopulation that is the most frustrating aspect of SXSW.

It’s not only the famous-famous people like Al Gore, Snoop Dog, and Jessica Alba, who took a big stage to discuss her founding of The Honest Company, attracting huge crowds.

One rock star in digital health is Mike Lee, founder of MyFitnessPal with his brother Albert. I planned to attend his session on Saturday, but the line to get into room 203 was so long, people were turned away. It was fortuitous, then, that I spent time with Mike before the session serendipitously bumping into him (literally) in the bustling hallway in the JW Marriott, able to catch up with him on life with Under Armour, the company that acquired MFP earlier this year. In full disclosure, I am a major fan of MFP and it has dramatically impacted my health and life. So for me, meeting up with Mike is akin to a rock star crush moment. That’s SXSW.

The literal crush in the session rooms translated across themes beyond digital health. The overpopulation was true, too, for popular food panels, one of which on the future of grocery store shopping I was fortunate enough to attend — seated sardine-like in the room. But so was the room for a panel I attended on consumer-centered design in the Internet of Things.

Such is the nature of rock stardom and SXSW, where rock stars come in flavors beyond music.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Peoples’ growing role in self-determining health care based on growing deductibles, out-of-pocket payments for heath care services, and preference for self-service and DIY formats across daily life activities, is driving demand for digital health products and services. SXSW is becoming a key venue for learning about these new-new things, confronting the confounding issues surrounding their adoption and innovation (such as privacy, health disparities, and health literacy), and meeting up with industry brethren who are keen to share ideas and brainstorm solutions.

If you are in the health sector, I recommend that you add the South-by-Southwest Festival to your list of must-attend conferences. While health was strewn throughout Austin venues in past years at SXSW and digital health was respected but not so organized, 2015 sees the industry segment events centralized in its own hotel, the shiny new luxe JW Marriott, with two dedicated days — today and tomorrow — featuring digital health all the time, along with a dedicated exhibition hall.

And if that isn’t whetting your whistle, what of another kind of serendipitous meeting – like bumping into Cookie Monster in the convention center? What’s more fun and a calorie free sweet experience than that?

This article was originally published in Jane’s blog Health Populi and is syndicated here with permission.