SXSW Health: What’s Coming and What’s Missing

Guest post written by Cristian Liu, recently involved in Dept. of Health and Human Services innovation projects. His passions surround entrepreneurship, technology and healthcare.

Get ready to be blown away (hopefully). After last years official debut of a health track, the quality of entries seems to have picked from a quick analysis of 99 submissions in the health category at SXSW. Now is a great time for health to be on the docket at SXSW because of the massive shifts taking place in the sector.

Stripping out common terms like “health” and “SXSW,” a Wordle cloud of the tags show a couple of trends that healthcare is moving toward.

Wordle cloud generated from and Tags scrapped from the SXSW site.

The themes clearly popped out from the tags and while they are common to other sectors, the health sector is still in it’s pre-infancy stage when it comes to social, mobile and innovation:

  1. Social Media:  Social Media has exploded over the past few years but healthcare has yet to effectively leverage its benefits at scale.  With the growth of social networking between patient groups, doctors, and specialists, one should expect to see the healthcare industry leveraging social media even more effectively.
  2. Mobile: “Mobile is the new social.”  Picture the wave of social media over the past few years.  Now picture a new surge that’s coming up right behind it.  That surge is mobile technology and the unfathomable data capture that comes along with it.  The increased adoption of smartphones has opened the door to new services that can bring information, services, and doctors to patients’ fingertips.
  3. Innovation: Disruptive innovation is the key to transforming healthcare and it is no surprise seeing this theme pop up.  Innovation is all the rage not only in the private sector (there are at least 4 health accelerators that launched within the last year – HealthBox (@health_box), RockHealth (@Rock_Health), StartupHealth (@startuphealth), BlueprintHealth (@bphealth)) but also in the government . It’s clear that the status quo isn’t going to work.  SXSW is the epitome of innovation.  By linking healthcare to the startup technology world, the opportunities are endless and as some VCs believe there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur and innovator in this sector.

There are a lot of usual suspects from the health world and it is refreshing to see some new faces. For example, check out the Food related submissions as compiled by Food and Tech Connect here. One thing, though, is clearly missing, view from emerging markets and global health. This blog of course has some bias because @mindofandre and @jaspaldesign submitted one of the very few that take a global view.  Check out a SXSW panel on global health issues here.

It’s clear that the health technology space is ripe for disruption.  The introduction of consumer web technology like social and mobile allows for patients to access services more directly, but business models here still need maturation. Additionally, similar groups are better able to connect with one other, leading to more effective knowledge sharing.  There is no time for small social media and mobile health stories at SXSW.  We should be well beyond that, moving into evidence and impact.  You can shape the future of this conversation and ensure the chosen panels reflect the true cutting edge.  Head over to the SXSW Panel Picker and be prepared to be blown away by the tremendous amount of health activity.


  1. did a thumbs up for “Beyond the app: 360 degrees of connected health”

  2. @Vinu: It is interesting that crowdsourcing wasn’t featured heavily in the panel descriptions. I think a lot of the time though crowdsourcing might be clumped in under social media. For example, online patient groups similar to Patients Like Me uses the wisdom of the crowd to help people. While it’s not on the word cloud, I’m confident that it’ll present itself during many of the panel sessions.

    @Susannah: I’m glad we’ve got the same thoughts on the health submissions for SXSW. I love your idea about having groups team up. Is there really any such thing as an event too big to host as an unconference? It only takes one person to turn a dream to reality.

    @Danielle: You’re very welcome, glad to include your write up and I appreciate your insight!

    @anjelika: I’m in absolute agreement with you. It’s not just about health coming to SXSW, it’s about the cross-pollination of ideas. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in health and incredible potential for disruptive change. I can’t wait!

  3. One word I’m surprised to see missing from the word cloud – crowdsourcing. Not sure if it’s missing because it’s inherent to a lot of public health happenings in the technology/mobile space and thus not mentioned explicitly, or if it’s missing because people aren’t talking about it. But it falls right in line with Susannah Fox’s comment above re: letting people vote up certain panels and speakers!

  4. Yes! I spent a half-day reading all the health submissions, looking for patterns and connections, and I’ve recommended this activity to two reporters who recently contacted me, asking for story ideas.

    However, like you, I wasn’t satisfied. There are some great ideas and great people, but just as many missed connections. I wish that we could vote up certain panels and speakers but with the proviso that they team up with this or that other group who is pursuing a similar topic. SXSW is probably too big a circus for this kind of unconference, HealthCamp activity, but I can dream, right?

  5. Thank you for including my round-up on Food+Tech Connect.

  6. Considering that last year was the first year of the health track, I will also be interested to see how the mix of attendees in the health track changes. I hope that not only more health folks come out to Austin, but that there’s a greater mix of SXSW folks coming to the health track. These topics of social media, mobile, and gaming (not mentioned in your post, but very applicable in health), are topics that should excite the designers, developers, and gamers at SXSW too! Hopefully this synergy of people gathering at SXSW will cause some radical change in health!


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