Health Care & Design Takeaways from SXSW 2023

“We are living through the radical transformation.”

– Amy Webb, Founder & CEO, Future Today Institute

This year’s SXSW experience raised many questions. And the answers to these questions will change the face of health care for the foreseeable future.

For example, how can artificial intelligence (AI) lessen the burden of charting for medical professionals? How will training for doctors, nurses, and a host of allied care professionals change to integrate AI and assistive technologies? Specifically, how can AI help with the dreaded overflow of documentation and billing that weighs on all clinicians?

How could understanding our genes change our clinical visits, pharmacist recommendations, and the effectiveness of medical interventions of any kind? How are we managing risks to cybersecurity and data privacy? How will the ecosystem of clinics, hospitals, and care hubs shift to reflect a rapidly changing future?

So many important questions, but here are a few themes to note:

1. Artificial Intelligence Immersion

For years we have talked about IBM’s Watson going to medical school; the potential for future diagnosis and recommended care pathways through artificial intelligence. That time is now.

Generative AI, which is essentially an interface in which a program is given a question or a prompt, and it generates an answer – in the form of text, images, or even the possible creation of a personalized medicine created around your genetic code. Although we are seeing some backlash against generative AI, the speakers and futurists at SXSW clarified that it will change how we live, work and deliver health care. While they do not yet know all of the ramifications, they know it will permeate all areas of human life, much like the discovery of electricity once did.  It will leave behind people that don’t have access to and education on how to use it, thus expanding an already gaping digital divide.

2. Medical Metaverse

Fundamentally, health care is a human endeavor, and any intelligent technology will need to integrate with the body and enhance our effectiveness of care. While traditional conversations around the metaverse conjure images of alternate worlds; the medical metaverse is integrating directly into caregivers’ eyes and hands, and onto the patient’s bodies. One example of this technology going through FDA approvals now uses augmented reality regularly to help reduce errors and increase the accuracy of surgery.

3. Decoding Treatment with Your DNA

“If you know what you’re likely to get, you can change it.”

– Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe CEO & Founder

There is an increased awareness and acceptance of the relevance of our individual genetic code in medicine. And this genetic code is often one of the only parts of our own patient data that we can own.

Knowing our genes can help reduce the guesswork in finding medications that work for us – a field of research called pharmacogenomics – and this is especially true today for anti-depressants, pain management, and heart medications. It can also help us monitor for post-surgical outcomes if we have a condition that increases our chances of blood clots.

4. Grab Your Partner

The rapidly changing world of health care is becoming too complicated for one person or organization alone. For this reason, we are seeing partnerships abound. This includes ample examples of expanding telehealth, as well as those in physical brick-and-mortar doctor’s offices. With its $3.9 billion acquisition of health care provider, One Medical, Amazon is now a provider of primary medical care with 200 brick-and-mortar doctor’s offices, and more than 800,000 patient members.

The personal genomics and biotech company, 23andMe, recently acquired the telehealth company, Lemonade, to help their clients better understand their data, and the implications; as well as speak to someone who can help them use their data with the vision of communicating with care providers and training them on interpreting that data. CVS recently partnered with the primary and urgent care provider, Carbon Health, to expand its footprint for in-person care. Meanwhile, Walgreens has teamed with DoorDash and Uber to launch a free, same-day prescription delivery focused on vital HIV medications that often impact the most underserved and vulnerable populations.

5. Technology as a Part of You

From continuous non-invasive monitoring to mobile assistive technologies like EEG headbands that deliver light electrical simulation, to minimally-invasive brain chips – technology is not just becoming part of our work, but part of our physical bodies and brains.

One in three Americans is pre-diabetic, and 80% of those are unaware of their diagnosis – although at the pre-diabetic stage the disease is reversible. Just this year Apple is taking its watch through FDA trials for continuous non-invasive glucose monitoring – something vital for those with diabetes, and pre-diabetes. This could transform our relationship with food by allowing us to know ourselves better – similar to the Fitbit I wear today to help me monitor my stress levels.

7. Care for the Clinicians, They Care for You.

The pandemic exacerbated and exposed an over-stretched medical system. More than half of health care workers report symptoms of burnout, many struggle with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges.

Clinicians are often both naturally disposed and trained to be overtly self-reliant, equanimities, not complain, and care for others – but that does not mean they do not need care themselves.

We have a choice – create a human-centered, sustainable, and just future together – or race to the bottom driven only by short-term commercial interests. Or, we can find a third way – a path where we recognize the return on investment of design for the universe’s well-being. Let’s design a future of health care where all thrive.