Health Innovation comes to South by Southwest

Posted by: in Austin Social Media, Healthcare Insights, Social Media Insights & Trends on June 25, 2010

As a result of its heavy regulation and extreme fragmentation (my old CEO, Mike McCallister of Humana used to say,” the problem with the American health system is that it’s not a system.”), the health industry has been slow to adopt some of the consumer-focused changes we’ve seen in other industries (see my post from last week on “Organizing for Social Media”).  However, there’s an interesting phenomenon happening in health now.  While the changes that have upended the music and publishing industries were driven almost entirely by consumers, the changes that are beginning to make waves in the health system are coming (in my opinion) largely from within the system.  The latest validation of the “mainstreaming” of health innovation is the inclusion, for the first time, of a health track at renowned South by Southwest Interactive Festival ( which occurs March 11-15, 2011 in Austin, Texas.

The track that’s now being called “South by Southwest Health” (SXSW Health) was approved last week, and an advisory board is being formed based on the following:

“The Advisory Board for SXSW Health (not healthcare) should have a patient-centric focus, not a new technology, healthcare policy or healthcare social media focus. Specifically, the focus should be around health and the patient, physician, provider (hospital/clinic/practice) and payor (insurance) relationships.”

What I noticed about that statement is that it’s about filling a vacuum – about creating a system where there is no system.  It’s based on uniting patients, doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, device companies and others in a collaborative environment.  I don’t think that anyone would question that this is a good thing, and long overdue.  But what’s interesting is that the technology/interactive/social space (and even SxSW’s hometown of Austin) have become synonymous with innovation.  And when you combine system-level dialog and integration with all of the innovative, disruptive and game-changing technologies and business models that live at South by Southwest, you wind up with a combination that’s tough to beat.

Another interesting thing about SxSW Health is that it came about in a very “2.0” kind of way.  The genesis happened (in my estimation) back in early 2009* when Dana Lewis founded the “Healthcare and Social Media Tweetchat” that meets every Sunday night (see my post on for more on the #HCSM chat).  Healthcare veteran and entrepreneur Tom Stitt jumped in to help Dana run the chat, which has grown to several hundred members.  In 2010, several of the “regulars” from #HCSM got together to create an “un-conference” on Social Health during the 2010 South by Southwest conference in Austin.  And while it happened at the same time, it was not affiliated with “the big conference.”  However, Shwen Gwee and Reed Smith joined Tom and Dana in building the un-conference in such a way that it would illustrate the crying need for a unifying conference at a major venue like SxSW.  And their work has now paid off, as Hugh Forrest and the SXSW team agreed that the time for a health track had come.

I think that this could be the boost that healthcare really needs to start innovating across all the players in the system. The very nature of the SXSW conference contributes to that; for those of you who don’t know, SXSW is the only major conference that “crowdsources” its panels; meaning that people like you who are very familiar with healthcare issues will have a big say in determining the content. The crowdsourcing approach should ensure that the very best possible presenters – and ideas – are on the big stage. How does this work?

Check out the SXSW PanelPicker and submit your concept (tag it with “health”) for a session.  The deadline for proposals is approaching fast – Friday, 9 July, 2010. After proposals are submitted, there is an opportunity to vote for the sessions you think have the most merit. The Advisory Board, with support from the SXSW staff reviews the proposed sessions and voting and makes decisions about which panels will be presented.

After speaking at the Social Health 2010 conference, and experiencing the power of that cross-industry collaboration, I want to encourage you to add your voice – even if you’re not going to be at the conference.  We – together – get to “have our say” in health innovation’s “coming out party.”

* originally this post pegged the founding of #HCSM in 1999, which was a wee bit early for tweetchats.  Thanks to @shwen for bringing me back to the 21st century – Gm

By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

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  1. Andre is right – this is a really exciting time for health innovation – I can’t wait til March!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. linked to this post on June 28, 2010

    Health Innovation comes to South by Southwest…

    SXSW is taking submissions for its health panel…

  2. Giving Health a Big Platform: SXSW Health linked to this post on August 12, 2010

    […] to next year’s South by Southwest Interactive (known to many as SXSW) event. There will be a one-day track devoted to health, giving opportunity for innovative ideas and thoughts to be shared at one of the largest gatherings […]

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