3 Lessons from W2O SXSW

Written by Center for Social Commerce
Published on March 28, 2019

By Newhouse PRL Students Riva Goldberg, Cayla Dorsey and Talia Simmons

From Sunday, March 10, to Tuesday, March 12, we started our new roles as ambassadors for Syracuse University’s W2O Group/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce during SXSW in Austin, Texas. Our time when we arrived in Austin by way of Syracuse’s Newhouse School was full of learning and experience as we assisted with W2O’s official partner programming events. It was a whirlwind three days of keynotes, panels and fireside chats featuring industry leaders and W2O executives, who offered perspective, real-life cases and the latest research on the key trends and topics in healthcare and technology today… And what would SXSW W2O events be without the 10th annual Geek-a-Cue event at San Jac Saloon in downtown Austin, where we tried some Texas BBQ, heard three fantastic musical artists, and networked with subject-matter-experts across the space.

W2O really immersed us in the SXSW W2O experience, where we had opportunities to speak with guests, created social media content and helped with all the elements that make three days of events come to life. If you’d like to learn more about specific sessions and check out videos from the events, check out W2O’s SXW2O official recap. We’ve shared some of our main takeaways from an incredible few days below

1. Data drives everything
As our digital footprint grows exponentially, so does the data we produce. New and emerging technologies allow us to store greater amounts of data now more than ever. Yet, many are wary to share their data with larger companies in fear of exploitation. W2O’s CEO Jim Weiss explained, though, that sharing data is crucial for the common good whether it be helping patients find the best treatment or helping facilitate research moving toward curing diseases. Once data is shared, companies can participate in in-depth social listening and follow the needs of customers through online activities which, according to Mary Michael, Otsuka’s Vice President of Patient Advocacy and Stakeholder Management, is crucial in consistently improving communication methods. As Cedar’s Head of Marketing, Bethany Hale, emphasized, it’s not just about getting the data, but contextualizing the meaning and insights from the information to generate a real impact.

2. Patients are people too
Amber J. Tresca, IBD patient and spokeswoman, brought to the forefront that the heart of the issues is this: it is easy to forget that patients aren’t just patients, they are people too. Tresca was featured on a panel entitled “Marketing’s Role in the Rise of Health Activism.” She explained, “as much data is collected from patient trials, research, surveys and studies, patients often don’t see their contributions come full circle.” It can be incredibly mentally taxing to participate in medical trials, not to mention the massive inconvenience it poses, deterring patient participation and causing increased frustration when nothing seems to come of all the effort and resources.

Caught up in pharmaceutical demographics and lengthy analytics, it seems that often patient experience can get lost in the numbers. According to Tresca, only in about the last five years have patients really begun to be heard. On an earlier panel entitled EQ in the ER, Atrium Health’s Chief Strategy Officer, Rasu Shrestha spoke to this as well, but as a clinician. From Shrestha’s point of view, “the power of empathy to elevate the level of connections you have as a care provider is absolutely incredible,” and right now industry professionals are working to finally get it to the level where it should be. These panels really opened our eyes to the importance of putting the patient first.

3. Technology is continuing to reinvent healthcare
Consistent throughout the sessions was the fact that the future of healthcare is being perpetually fueled by new technological advances. Technology has already begun making an immense imprint on healthcare and will continue to do so. It is the way we utilize and react to it, though, that will determine how useful it becomes. The doctor’s office is moving towards being a space that is completely digital and Weiss assured us that soon our healthcare information will be completely stored and accessible from our mobile devices. We can see these advancements through the rise of an increasing number of medical apps and the adoption of wearable technology health devices such as Fitbit and the Apple Watch. However, as this integration of technology and healthcare occurs, making sure a new digitized health space doesn’t become overly desensitized is crucial. Finding the balance between sharing our data and not losing empathy for the individual patient will be the key to success. As robots begin to enter the patient’s room and deliver private, life-changing information, how do we better adapt technology and human interaction to maintain respect for people who are then dealing with the emotional, physical and psychological impact of this information? These are questions we must begin to ask ourselves as the health environment undergoes such dramatic shifts.

The time we spent at SXSW was the perfect start to the next year of our tenure as Syracuse ambassadors. W2O wasted no time to expose us to what it takes to execute an event of this magnitude and caliber. The three of us are looking forward to this summer at W2O’s New York office, where we will be interning on the Corporate and Strategy team! However, before we start our internships, we are excited to help host Social Commerce days at Syracuse University on April 9th and 10th. A big thank you to the Center for Social Commerce team and W2O Group for kickstarting our experience so powerfully. Stay tuned for more information on events to come!