Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited back to the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) to participate as a judge of a digital healthcare start-up competition. SXSW, which takes place in Austin, TX, is historically an indie music gathering that has evolved into a massive mainstream music conference as well as a monumentally huge film festival, like Sundance times twenty. There are literally hundreds of bands and films featured around town. There has now evolved alongside this a conference called Interactive that draws more than 25,000 people and focuses on technology, particularly mobile, digital, and Internet.
In other words, SXSW has become one of the world’s largest gatherings of hoodie-sporting, gadget-toting nerd geniuses that are way too square to be hip but no one has bothered to tell them. Imagine you are sitting at a Starbucks in Palo Alto, CA among 25,000 people who cannot possibly imagine that the rest of the world still thinks the Internet is that newfangled thing used mainly for email and porn. SXSW is a cacophonous melting pot of brilliance, creativity, futuristic thinking, arrogance, self-importance, ironic retro rock and roll t-shirts and technology worship. One small example: It’s very hard to get your hands on a charger for anything other than an iPhone 5 because, seriously, who would have anything else?
Non-sequitur alert: Despite there being legions of legitimate celebrities at SXSW, the biggest line for a "celebrity" photo op was in the Mashable tent, where literally hundreds (maybe even over a thousand) people lined up to take their photo with The Grumpy Cat of Internet fame. Really, I swear. If you ask me, the cat looks a bit like McKayla Maroney, the Olympic gymnast. But I digress.
In the last two years healthcare has become a highly featured part of the SXSW Interactive conference, particularly as digital health has risen to the forefront of the healthcare conversation. Last year there were a few events focused on this topic but this year there were many of them, including two major start-up competitions, a plethora of presentations, and even a pretty healthy group of parties put on by the likes of old school healthcare entities looking to find their seat at that Palo Alto Starbucks look-alike contest. Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and other carriers were well-represented. It is interesting to see our industry make an earnest attempt, at least in some quarters, to find their way into the 21st Century and beyond. It was also interesting to notice who was not yet there: the mainstream healthcare IT companies, particularly those that sell to hospitals and other provider organizations. Back to that in a minute.