SXSW: Looking at what’s ahead in healthcare means taking a closer look at ourselves

Garrett Young, Senior Analyst, Market Strategies, AVIA and Janice Louie, Senior Manager, Market Strategies, AVIA

Five trends in 2019 and their implications for healthcare

SXSW isn’t exactly your traditional healthcare conference. Sure, there’s still more than the fair share of leaders who identify themselves by title first and impact second… but the roots of the event enable it to continue to draw designers, creators, technologists, and divergent thinkers from across industries to trade notes, share alternative points of view, and discuss the ever accelerating present.

In the spirit of the non-traditional nature of the event, we’ve compiled key takeaways that extend beyond the expected and tie back to the potential impact on healthcare. AVIA would love to engage with you further on any of these trends and share more of our on-the-ground observations as well.

1. It’s not just the G-MAFIA: Health and healthcare emerge as natural extensions for many forward-thinking companies. While healthcare was one of the official tracks at SXSW this year, its presence was seen beneath the surface at sessions across all of the tracks. Many purpose-driven companies are incorporating health and healthcare delivery as a part of their overall goals. While people often talk about large entities like Google and Amazon “coming into healthcare,” the reality is that a flood companies of all sizes and prior backgrounds have their sights set on healthcare as their next, logical expansion–and in more sophisticated ways than in years past. For example, while companies like Lyft and Niantic (makers of Pokemon Go) may have stumbled into healthcare use cases by addressing issues that include  non-emergent medical transportation, food delivery, social isolation, and diabetes, they continue to build on these early successes by evolving and expanding their products with health impact now as a core objective.


Implication: Expect more innovations to come from unexpected places, with health and healthcare use cases integrated into the core development and growth of existing products. Take, for example, the LG Experience Gallery–a showcase of their innovations in smart, context-aware home assistants that support access and mobility, read sign language, and interpret emotion. In an effort to be useful to people at home, they will inevitably intersect with health and healthcare use cases. As the digital health market matures and new entrants continue to enter the field, expect to see more nuanced and interesting healthcare use cases come from companies that seemingly have nothing to do with healthcare.

2. Creativity = Cash: The financial value of design & empathy in the enterprise.
We heard quite a bit of “when the robots take all of our jobs” talk as speakers ranging from well-established firms to avant-garde CEOs shared their visions for the future of work. Automation is at peak fever. At the same time, there was a small, still voice calling for empathy. How can organizations, regardless of industry, be more human? It’s already happening in pockets. For example: slow grocery lines for elderly persons, sign language Starbucks stores, touch design at P&G. If the current present is all about automation and bringing in technology to reimagine how we work, the accelerating present is about how we continue to build with empathy and human understanding as a key ingredient.

Implication: Making investments in design pays off. Quantitative analyses presented at one session showed that organizations that put an organizational focus on design see 32% higher revenues compared to their peers. Automation may enable the most transactional, tedious parts of our daily experiences, but how we choose to design these experiences will continue to matter.  Digital transformation is not only about the technology, it’s also about what gets enabled as a result. How you choose to marshal your organization’s resources, talent, and time will have a lasting impact on your consumers — and your bottom line.

3. Tech Stacks Telling Stories: Bringing technology together to create unified experiences and new points of view. The last few years at SXSW have been dotted with a veritable bingo card of technology acronyms (AR, VR, AI, ML, etc.). With the tech market becoming more mature, this year’s focus was on bringing these technologies together to create user experiences that are closer to reality and experimenting with new ways to tell stories. Intel, for instance, showcased its new studio dedicated to volumetric storytelling (i.e. shooting each scene as a 360 degree volume vs. a one-dimensional point of view). Filmmakers and designers talked about creating “extended reality” (XR) and there were several showcases of innovations layering multiple forms of technology together to create one singular experience.


Implication: New ways of storytelling will enable us to think differently about the challenges we once thought we knew well. Patient journey mapping, in many ways, has its heritage from design thinking, storytelling, and filmmaking. In the same way that filmmaking is moving from 2D pixels to 3D voxels, what if our views of human-centered care also evolved? And it’s not just in film, design thinking is already evolving as leaders in the field declared “the persona is dead”–data segmentation and statistical groupings make nice stories, but are insufficient to address the individuality and diversity of consumers. We expect to see patient and consumer journeys become more sophisticated, particularly as organizations become interested in layering on new data sources to get a more holistic, multi-dimensional view of the person and unlock new ways to interact and engage patients and consumers.

4. Unpacking the Black Box: Playing offense in an AI-driven era.
With topics like fake news, data breaches, and social media influencers saturating the headlines over the past year, this year’s SXSW participants channeled energy around recapturing creative control and playing offense in this new world. Instead of fearing which information and recommendations algorithms surface, speakers implored participants to greater transparency, higher ethical standards, and to acknowledge the bias baked into these technologies. Speakers reiterated that technologies like AI and machine learning are just tools that humans choose to deploy, making the analogy that there are “no bad genies”, but rather, “only those who make bad wishes”. To combat these threats, Google’s Chief Decision Scientist called for leaders to build the safety nets into these tools to allow for better human oversight and intervention.


Implication: Healthcare organizations can be a leading voice in this space, but only if decision-makers have an understanding of the best uses and inherent limitations of these technologies. Healthcare has always been more sensitive toward this issue than other industries. In light of doing no harm, decision pathways are scrutinized, chatbots are examined, and remote triage solutions are unpacked well before implementation and contracting decisions are made. As technology continues to enable new solutions, healthcare leaders will need to have a skillset that allows them to ask the right questions — specifically when and how to best deploy new technologies — to help keep their patients healthy and their data secure.

5. My Data, My Rules: Personal data records for the next 30 years of web? March 11th marked the 30-year anniversary of the world wide web–it’s a world in which our data are dispersed across hundreds of various sources, one where a basic workflow of going to a meeting, taking notes, and acting on next steps involves at least three separate sources of record. The envisioned future of the web is one where the locus of control shifts to the individual, where multiple systems are interoperable at the data level. It’s not ready for consumer grade use yet, but you can check out progress and learn more about data pods here.

: With so much information being generated on a daily basis, it is more likely that innovation in personal data ownership will come from the outside. We know the tech graveyard is littered with personal health records, but health data only encompasses about 20% of a person’s entire data history. We expect to see a few leading healthcare delivery systems start to work with others to think outside of a delivery-centric model and develop new ways to interoperate with people at the center and controlling their data.

Calmer than a sloth in a convention center and tougher than Dana Bash at a CNN town hall, we’re your roving reporters: Garrett Young (Senior Analyst, Market Strategies) and Janice Louie (Senior Manager, Market Strategies).