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SXSW: Time, Technology & the Saving of Lives – What Matters?

We kicked off SXSW this morning with a panel on "The Value of Technology in Building the Blueprint for Healthy Communities".

As the CEO of the MedicAlert Foundation, we are highly focused on being there for our members when they have a “MedicAlert Moment”. This can be a person with Alzheimer’s wandering and getting lost on a cold winter night; it could be a young man or woman suffering a severe epileptic seizure in the middle of a rock concert; it could be a child dealing with an anaphylactic reaction to a known allergy during recess at school. The key point is that, in each case, our member...your Mom, Dad, Son or Daughter, cannot advocate for themselves at that moment. So, what can we do to help all of us when we most need it?

In today’s discussion, I focused on four key areas where we can provide the most value to provide safety and security to our members and to be there when they cannot advocate for themselves.

Let’s Remember Low Cost, Non-Technology Solutions Matter – not everyone can afford a $1,000 smart phone and the data package that goes with it. In fact, most people can’t. Our mission is to be there for everyone who needs support in a time of need, regardless of income. This is why our most important solution is non-technical and it is a product and service we have been offering for nearly 60 years. The MedicAlert bracelet or necklace gives information on the person, the condition and a place to call for First Responders or other Medical Professionals who can call us and get the information we have available. This team approach – the bracelet/necklace, our First Responders and our team who answers the phone form a network that helps save lives.

Improving Location Saves Lives – if someone is in need of support, do we want to be guessing which street or part of a street they are on? No, that is clear. However, with today’s technology, which is dependent on cell towers, the variability is too high. We want to be more Uber-like and less dependent on old school ways to locate. Knowing the 911 system is dependent on cell towers, we are partnering with RapidSOS, which can take information from connected devices, align with the 911 system and, quite frankly, bypass the old way of locating us.

This, of course, leads to why smart wearables really have to be smart.

We Want Smart Wearables that Can Save Lives, not Just Be Cool – we’re not worried about being hip. It’s nice to know our heart rate or how much we slept last night, but we are talking about a different type of wearable that we want to offer our members.

  • Imagine shoes that have sensors in them, so we know where a person with dementia may be at any given time. It would be a MedicAlert approved shoe.
  • Imagine if that same sensor automatically triggers an alert to a caregiver if the person leaves a certain geographic sphere. Any item of clothing (e.g. shirt, hat) could carry this sensor so we offer what the individual wants to wear. It would be MedicAlert approved apparel.
  • Imagine if our bracelets all contained GPS data. Not fancy watches. Pragmatic, inexpensive bracelets and necklaces that do their job. Remember, we want to help the millions of people in our country and world who can benefit from a solution that can save or improve their lives. Money should not be the detractor here. MedicAlert would raise funds to ensure that those who cannot afford GPS bracelets still receive them.

Blockchain to the Rescue for Health Records – we’ve been talking about health record integration for decades with little to show for it. Let’s embrace new uses of blockchain so that a person’s health record is available in real-time for First Responders and the Medical Community to treat someone who may be on vacation with their family or at university or at another place outside of their normal home. A call to MedicAlert should be able to get all you need to the right person, while protecting your privacy.

Overall, we are driven by saving and improving lives. Technology can play a major role, as long as it does not become something that only those of us who can afford SXSW can use. We decrease health disparities when we tone down the dozens of features of new devices and we focus, instead, on how to solve a simple problem.

Will we be there during someone’s MedicAlert Moment and will it make a difference? Yes or no? Millions of Americans and millions more worldwide are hoping that the SXSW crowd has a few solutions up its sleeve. Let’s all think of our loved ones and ask how we might repurpose an idea or a new technology to reach those who are yet to have a moment where they may need us.

Let us know! Thank you and enjoy SXSW in 2019.

Best, Bob Pearson, CEO, MedicAlert Foundation

Note: thank you to the Energizing Health House, which is a pop-up health community center at Cooper’s BBQ at 217 Congress (next door is the SXSW Health programming at the JW Marriott) sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Aetna Foundation, Cambia Health Foundation, St. David’s Foundation, Novartis Biome, Illumina Accelerator, and AT&T.