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SXSW Interactive: A health wrap-up for journalists

SXSW Interactive: A health wrap-up for journalists

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Even if you were in Austin for South by Southwest last week, the sheer volume of information and number of people make it difficult to know what the ultimate take-aways were. How can you sum up the best tips and critical thinking from some 40 panels and meet-ups and events related to health this year? I've been following many of the panel hastags on Twitter, including the most popular #sxswh. Here I highlight some of the best reads for journalists who want to turn the innovations on display at SXSW into stories.

Matt Cyr, director of patient communications at Children's Hospital Boston, rounds up the ethical questions surrounding health care and tech from many of the health-related panels at SXSW, which incidentally provide great fodder for asking probling questions as you do your reporting.

One of the most popular panels was about mobile health applications, and while there was a lot of excitement about how powerful these programs can be, skepticism is an important part of analyzing their ability to actually change behaviors. Health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn tweeted a link to a study of 47 smoking cessation apps. The conclusion? They don't work very well.

Sarasohn-Kahn also wrote about finding inspiration for mobile health in the developing world at Health Populi. Her post provides great inspiration for reporting stories from abroad that are surprisingly relevant to the United States.

What happens when you set data free? One of the most powerful talks I attended was given by Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Park pitched the idea that new open data initiatives are powerful places for entrepreneurs and venture capitals to invest. "The person who invents FarmVille for health," said Park, "will be one of the most important figures in health in the 21st Century." Peruse his slides for the various agencies that are releasing data in useable formats and read Ruth Suehle's excellent summary at

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Steve Myers asked 12 journalists what they are taking away from SXSW Interactive. For the most part, they discovered that connecting online requires a lot more human engagement than they realized. Aimee Roundtree, professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, had this revolutionary thought about social meda: "This media is relational," she says, "and if you don't want to start a relationship, don't use it."

It wasn't part of SXSW Interactive, but a panel on health reform for musicians provided great inspiration for freelance journalists to make sure they get the health care and coverage they need.

Thinking about attending SXSW next year?  Ed Bennett from the University of Maryland Medical Center makes the case for the megaconference's importance to health care.

A lot of people wrote a lot more about their experiences at SXSW vis-à-vis health. Share your favorite links in comments.

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