A smart vibrator that can track a woman’s sexual health. A tampon that can detect endometriosis. The "WhatsApp of healthcare."
These are just a few of the innovations discussed and on display at South by Southwest Interactive 2017. And while we’re only three days into the interactive part of the event, one thing is certain: health technology has made it to prime time.
The healthcare track, a subset of SXSW Interactive, has grown so much this year that the panels have moved from a few small rooms at an adjacent hotel to the Austin Convention Center proper, proving the intersection of technology and healthcare is not just coming, it is here.
Over at the Innovation Expo, healthcare inventions were featured at booths side-by-side with the latest in virtual reality, and there were more cannabis-based products than I could count. One serious innovation that caught my eye was a needle-free autoinjector, which is being tested for delivery of biologics. If you know anything about biologics, you know how viscous they are and that a large and painful needle is required to inject them. Being able to address needle phobia and pain through technology could be a game changer for enhanced compliance of these important medications.
New solutions that make the ever-growing and much needed trend of telemedicine even more convenient for patients, providers, and payers are also on display. Austin, Texas-based startup Medici, dubbed the "WhatsApp of healthcare," discussed a HIPAA-compliant app that securely connects patients and doctors via text message that could provide a better experience for all involved. Using this app, patients can communicate directly with their doctor via text and send photos and videos to illustrate any concerns or questions. That means they won’t have to make appointments, sit in waiting rooms, visit emergency rooms, or drive miles for a routine post-op exam or minor ailment. Doctors can respond when they have available time.
Then there are inventions not originally developed with healthcare in mind that are being applied to the industry. Technologies like DuoSkin – metallic temporary tattoos – seem rife with possibilities. Developed by the MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research, the devices "enable users to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information on their skin while serving as a statement of personal style." They have a host of potential uses, from helping people with disabilities communicate to harnessing the power of tracking medical information in real time.
The biggest takeaway? The technology of the future and the healthcare discourse are symbiotic. The parallel between discussions about these innovations and the national dialogue on healthcare is that both are fundamentally focused on putting people in charge of their own health and making healthcare more efficient.
Judging by the apps and devices at SXSW, the future is now. This people-centered mindset has already moved beyond wellness into diagnosis, ongoing management, and even how patients are choosing to engage their healthcare team. The brands that will stand out are those that can apply this: filtering marketing and communications through this lens to give patients more control.
There is also huge potential to improve how doctors manage their patients, their practices, and even how they practice medicine day-to-day. SXSW innovations proved that convenience, flexibility, and efficiency all in the name of better care will drive how healthcare providers engage. Brands that help them incorporate and apply real-time patient information and treat their patients no matter where they are will stand out.
Of course, some hurdles remain; it’s healthcare marketing after all. Yet it’s clear healthcare is changing and the brands that leverage the best technological developments will gain loyalty from physicians, patients, and providers.
Jennifer Hayoun is group SVP for healthcare digital strategy at Marina Maher Communications.