Four Cool Technologies and Three Takeaways from SXSW

South by Southwest (SXSW) is unlike any other conference experience.

There's no better place than South By (as Austinites call it) to help foster our digital medical revolution. SXSW added an unofficial health track three years ago. There were more than 50 sessions and events for healthcare marketers, educators, innovators and start-ups.

Reimagining Health, Technology and Design was my standout session for 2013. Frank Moss of MIT labs showed a couple of devices that he and his team hacked together. The refractive diagnosis peripheral for a smartphone (called NETRA) had smart implications for field use in third-world countries, allowing doctors to diagnose different eye diseases in the field. And it comes in at under $10 each.

Several session leaders showed off AliveCor, the ECG screening device that has seen a lot of press lately. It attaches to a smart phone and has instant mobility benefits.

Contextual use of medical devices is the rallying cry – we're now more mobile, with more powerful smartphones and the ability to help others on the go. 

The Interactive Accelerator also had many amazing health technologies that have yet to be funded fully, and a couple were devices that we will keep on our radar. TedCas uses touch free management of 3-D images that enables surgeons to see patient data without having to exit the cleanroom. It can be used with any legacy hospital system and takes Microsoft Kinect technology to new levels.

Truly inspiring. NeuroTrack, a screening device that can help predict Alzheimer's disease three to four years before symptoms occur, will greatly help quality of life and clinical trials. Patients look at images on a screen and eye-tracking software follows their eye reaction time and placement. It seems so simple, yet effective. (The accelerator judges thought so, too—Richmond-based NeuroTrack took top honors in the Health Technologies category of the accelerator.)

All in all, there were three top takeaways from South By that will live with me for the upcoming year (and beyond):

  1. Sensors + data + analytics will keep us moving forward with new and interesting devices.
  2. Apps on smartphones and tablets bring contextual mobile experiences that have never existed before. Peripherals and native capabilities will continue to make our devices (and medical treatment) smarter.
  3. Passive monitoring is the best experience for patients. If you're thinking of new ways to make the old rigor more advanced, know that the less your patients life is interrupted, the higher the likelihood that your idea will be utilized. South By isn't strictly a medical device conference. There's something for everyone, from learning how to make the complex simple, to trying new apps and social media gaming. It's certainly one of my most favorite events of the year.

Hope to see you in Austin in 2014.

Joe Doyle is Interactive Director for HCB Health. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, HCB Health serves the entire healthcare sector, including manufacturers of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and genetic engineering products; physician groups, hospitals and managed care organizations; and patients and consumers.

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