As I do every year, this week I attended the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. With a focus on emerging technology, SXSWi has earned a reputation as a launching pad for innovative new technology; its collective action propelled such applications as Twitter and Foursquare onto the social radar. But SXSWi isn’t the place to learn how to use Twitter. It’s the place to go to meet those creating and showcasing the next killer app.
So what’s a physician and medical educator doing at SXSWi? It’s where I can hear some of technology’s greatest minds sharing what they know and what they’re doing. Beyond listening, it’s where I rub elbows with emerging technology leaders. No matter what I see or whom I talk to, I always wonder, “How can this be applied to the care of patients?” I go to SXSWi to get ideas about how to look at things differently. Traditional medical meetings are fine, but I’ve found that they drive traditional thinking. Medical education needs the kind of thinking that happens in Austin every March.
The application of SXSW-type innovative thinking to medicine and health became easier two years ago, when a formal health track was introduced into the programming. I’m in my second year serving as an advisor for that track, and I’ve seen interest in digital health among the SXSW community growing. The number of physicians in attendance has steadily risen. As medicine and technology continue their collision course, I would expect the SXSW health track to be a venue where health leaders convene to collaborate and co-create.
As someone working to prepare the next generation of physicians for a very different future, I consider it my job to understand what’s coming next. The only way to do that is to step out and connect with those who are making it happen.
—Bryan Vartabedian, MD, writes monthly for Wing of Zock about the intersection of health care, medical education, and social media. He is a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and blogs at 33 charts.