Welcome to Austin

by Johanna Skilling

Notes From a First-Time SXSW Participant

Posted by Johanna Skilling from Ogilvy Health on March 18, 2019

Welcome to Austin: music hub, expanding tech center, and incredibly friendly people. SXSW truly takes over for two weeks, expanding the population by an estimated 50%, with brands large and small re-imagining downtown with everything from café takeovers to high-tech basketball courts to giant Lucite boxes featuring local bands. There are the hundreds of formal sessions, covering topics from social media meltdowns to flowing yoga—plus at least as many pop-ups, including Ogilvy’s wildly successful #HumbleHangout on the back lawn of the Four Seasons.

Looking at the trends health care marketers might be especially interested in, three things stood out:

Protecting, preserving and treating mental health and wellness.

Many sessions and discussions focused on our growing national mental health crisis. While multiple people and panels talked about mental health for disease states including anxiety, depression, social isolation, PTSD, others talked about mental health as a component of care for diabetes, cancer, and other physical trauma. Lesson learned: whatever disease state we are working on, mental health can and should be part of a patient-centric approach to better outcomes.

Managing the line between technology serving us…and taking over from us.

Whether you were interested in how blockchain can help solve the opioid crisis, or how open-source technology created an artificial pancreas, or how AI-powered bots are supporting and in some cases supplanting human HCPs, there was no shortage of ideas and discussions about current and future technology. But on the flip side was an equal emphasis on what one panel called health care’s primary delivery mechanism: humanity. Lesson learned: the tension between our love affair with—and need for—technology and the essential need for humans to care for one another will be something we need to remain vigilant about.

Social determinants of health are a growing area of concern.

Many panels reflected on this increasingly urgent topic: how can health care be provided to people who either live far from centers of care, or whose health care needs put them outside the mainstream, or who simply don’t have the funds to cover their health care costs? Technology is one answer to all three questions, but so is the determination of the companies and people involved to make the right choices. Lesson learned: technology can provide health care access to a wider group of people, if, and only if, we implement it.

There was one other thing I noticed, and that is an opportunity. Very few health care companies had a presence at SXSW2019, either as sponsors or speakers, or even as conference participants. Yet health care is one of the most important topics at this festival of ideas and emerging technologies. Next year, I hope to see major pharmaceutical brands and emerging biotech companies taking the stage to share the amazing advances in science helping to evolve health care; the costs, the barriers, and the possibilities of bringing these advances to more patients; and specific plans and ideas as to what we can expect to see on the immediate horizon and in the years to follow.