SxSW: Setting the Stage for Decoding our Bodies

We take a look at some of the key trends in Medical Technology to come out of SxSW 2015, and investigate the next step for making personal data more meaningful.

Hot on the heels of our very own Vikki Chowney who has just returned from the hub of innovation, inspiration and creativity that is SxSW, the Apple a Day team have been avidly following the discussions around citizen health.

The subject that particularly peaked our interests and perked up our ears was the #DecodingMe panel which saw Sam De Brouwer, Linda Avey, Jessica Richman, and Alan Greene MD debate the growing role of tech in changing the face of healthcare. The discussion widely focused upon people starting to monitor and track their own health to enable a better and more effective conversation with doctors based upon a collection of their personal data. It’s no secret that apps are launching to help us track everything from our quality of sleep and calorie intake to the iWatch which will alert a user if they have been inactive for too long, but only now are we really starting to question how this data can be captured and aggregated to give doctors a more complete picture of an individual’s health.

Collaborative initiatives such as Quantified Self have sprung up to address this need and aim to help people get meaning out of their personal data by arranging international conferences and producing online content to simplify the process. However, the conversation at SxSW seemed to view this as just the first step in a long journey, with Linda Avey suggesting that personal data from patients with the same diagnosis could be used to inform and redefine subgroups of disease for more specialised treatment programmes to be developed.

With technological advances being made in the world of citizen health, the issue of finance will inevitably always be raised, but as Dr Greene commented, those who ‘take health into their own hands’ cost 31% less to treat. This was reinforced by a 2015 study by Health Affairs[1] which showed that active, involved patients actually have lower healthcare costs. This makes us think that if we take more individual responsibility for monitoring our own health, we could play a larger part in reducing the financial burden on the healthcare system as well as identifying any change in our health more easily. This can go further if that data was then accumulated and used to provide information on how different patients respond to pharmaceutical drugs.

Companies such as ‘23 and me’ are already compiling this information on a widespread basis with over 900,000 people in their database for whom they generate individual genetic reports which can include how they may respond to certain medications. This data can be used not just for those with chronic diseases, it can also help everyone place higher importance on preventative measures.

This is most definitely a subject that Apple a Day will be keeping a keen eye on as more and more tech innovations become more accessible to the everyday consumer, hopefully we will see an increased responsibility for individual health. If you would like to see some of the social pickup from the event then you can see Vikki’s storify here. For more information on some of the other Healthcare and technology trends to come out of SxSW, take a look at Vikki’s blog on the Medtech Top 5 at SxSW 2015.


[1] Greene, J et al, When Patient Activation Levels Change, Health Outcomes And Costs Change, Too, Health Aff March 2015 vol. 34 no. 3431-437

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