Global Practices

Healing Health Innovation at SXSW



Last year, a main SXSW theme was wearables – what innovations were coming to market and determining what to do with the resulting data. This year, having found glaring holes in what we’re capturing and how we’re using health technologies, we found people wanting more. The permeating health theme centered on the betterment of ourselves through predictive technology, creation of artificial environments and introduction of innovations that simplify our lives. People are focused on healthcare – discussing health innovation is now “cool.”

Natsai Audrey, a forward-thinking fashion designer, proved this when she credited the pharma industry as inspiring her to research new ways to dye clothing. Yes, the pharma industry influenced fashion. She collaborated with the University College London and dyed clothing with bacteria. Clothing makers can now dye materials organically in a way that requires far less water than the standard dying process.

Still don’t believe me?

ResearchKit is an open-source platform that aims to help us better use big data and wearables by introducing mobile clinical trials. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association*, touched upon the ResearchKit app, MyHeart Counts, in her SXSW presentation. MyHeartCounts will inform you of your chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next decade/over the course of your life, empowering you to make changes to decrease those chances. There is an appetite for it; the day MyHeart Counts became available, over 10,000 people enrolled. Recruitment of this scale would typically take a year via traditional recruitment techniques (website announcements, doctor recommendations, etc.). Not only are people realizing that we can use technology to better our current and future selves, but providing tools to make that realization a reality.

The focus of the keynote presentation by Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics was Artificial Intelligence but what struck me was how UT’s creation of artificial environments that can keep lungs viable for a longer period of time (four out of five lungs are discarded due to inability to get to the intended recipient in time). This innovation has already saved 500 lives (and counting).

Hugh Herr is confident in our ability to end disability this century. When Hugh had both legs amputated in the early 1980s, he was not satisfied with the current prosthetic offering and is now out to change that. Without technology, Hugh stated that he is “shackled, crippled and disabled” but with technology he is free. With his extreme bionic innovations, his team is working to improve upon their already strong foundation, making the limbs “sense” their environments (i.e. grass), dance, run and function as well (or better) than biological limbs; removing the “dis” in disabled.

SXSW has caught on: health is having more than a moment. It’s here to stay.

*Edelman client

Kathleen O’Connor is an account supervisor for digital health in New York.

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