For the first time since 2019, SXSW is back in person – and with it returns the much-anticipated health track, which has charted out an ambitious, innovation-minded agenda.
Notable speakers include U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who will discuss the importance of rebuilding trust in public health; Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla on the race for a COVID-19 vaccine; and Salesforce chief medical officer Dr. Geeta Nayyar on digital acceleration.
Real Chemistry SVP of marketing and communications Stephanie Agresta noted the paramount importance of med-tech within the health track. “It is even more important than ever – and the track itself has grown significantly in recent years,” she said, noting that “health or health-related submissions were the second-largest group within the panel picker.”
Real Chemistry chief marketing officer Aaron Strout added that many of the year’s central themes will revolve around mental health and health equity, and how brands and tech companies can embrace them.
“We’re starting to see this interesting undercurrent of what innovation really means and how it can help people who are impacted from a mental health perspective, as well as people impacted from a health equity perspective,” he explained. “More brands like CVS and Walgreens are getting interested and, as a result, payers are looking for different payment and delivery models. What does that changing landscape look like as we bring healthcare closer to the patient?”
Other SXSW Health trends to watch include a continued focus on med tech and wearables, the effective management of health misinformation and healthcare’s foray into the metaverse.
With rates of mental illness rising during the pandemic, and Murthy issuing a public advisory flagging a mental health crisis among young people in December, mental health has become an essential part of the national conversation. SXSW will feature several sessions on mental health, exploring topics like ADHD and anxiety, psychedelics in treating depression and PTSD and mental health among members of the LGBTQ+ communities, including managing the nation’s transgender health crisis.
Real Chemistry’s Healthcare Media Lounge will host panels on DE&I and the intersection of science and equitable health, with Bristol Myers Squibb contributing to a session on the role of digital technologies in addressing inequities and improving access. Another session will focus on the wellness industry’s delay in taking action to address diversity issues.
As podcasting and audio platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces have surged in popularity, healthcare marketers should start thinking about how to incorporate sound into branding, according to Mark Pappas, SVP, innovation at CMI Media Group. A session on sonic branding and social audio will cover the rapid rise of audio consumption on different platforms, as well as opportunities for brands to leverage those platforms to define their voice.
“Brands will build out very flashy, visual campaigns, but no one’s thinking about how brands sound,” Pappas said. “This idea is about having brands start to think about how they sound as opposed to how they look.”
NFTs and the metaverse
Though distinct from the SXSW health track, NFTs and the metaverse have emerged as cornerstones of SXSW 2022. And while the healthcare industry is just beginning to dip its toes into the metaverse, Pappas expects to gather some cutting-edge ideas from the broader festival to apply to healthcare.
“For health specifically, the metaverse will be a great solution for things like patient care groups or caregiver discussions,” Pappas said. “As more health systems and companies come onto the metaverse, there’s going to be more opportunity for remote care that goes beyond typical telehealth now, opening it up worldwide to different specialists.”
“This is one of those areas that’s evolving so quickly that whatever we tell you today could be completely different a month from now,” Pappas added.