SXSW 2017: How innovation in health tech will impact Austin

We might not be quite Star Trek-level with our health care technology just yet, but the industry leaders painted a bright future ahead today at South by Southwest Interactive.

Eventually you will take a pill you can track on your smartphone to see how it’s affecting your body. One key component to solving childhood obesity is utilizing wearables so doctors can better monitor their patients outside of the office. Another could be the creation of a nutritional Snapchat, for instance, to engage with that audience. On a larger scale, doctors will begin to use tech to figure out what environmental factors are contributing to the problem.

Austin specifically was a large part of the discussion in today’s Dunking on Disparity panel, which included Michael Mackert from the University of Texas, Baker Harrell of advocacy group It’s Time Texas and Stephen Pont of Dell Children’s Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity.

It’s Time Texas collaborated with Dell Children’s Medical Center to create the Choose Healthier app to aggregate health-related events and services. Harrell noted it’s particularly important because while more Americans than ever have access to internet on their on smartphones, 10 percent don’t have access to any high-speed service. “The phone is their lifeline,” Harrell said.

Pont said geographic information systems could make a big difference in how childhood obesity is tackled. If physicians are able to better understand their patients, they can put together plans to help them overcome their health problems. “Where do kids live that are challenged by their weight?” he asked. “What can you change about their environment so they can make healthy change?”

Euthanizing our Global System of “Sick Care,” and its duo of panelists, addressed how health tech, like digitally trackable pills, will eventually free up more time for experts to focus on the cases that need their attention the most. Andrew Thompson of Proteus Digital Health demonstrated the technology by taking one of the pills, and his co-panelist, Leslie Saxon of USC’s Center for Body Computing, was able to pick up the signal on her tablet within minutes.

Now patients “get to engage in their own care,” while doctors can now manage cases much more efficiently. And that means time and resources are devoted to the people who need care the most. Speaking of Star Trek, Saxon speculated that one day her son could “have his own health avatar” that helps him manage his care. That kind of technology could have reverberating effects on both sides of the doctor-patient relationship in Austin and beyond.