SXSWi 2013: Digital Health and HIV

Content From: Jeremy Vanderlan, Technical Deputy, and Michelle Samplin-Salgado, New Media StrategistPublished: April 09, 20133 min read


South by Southwest Interactive Logo
Every year, the digital world converges on Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi), which features “five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology.” At, we have welcomed this opportunity to learn and collaborate with others through the Digital Health trackExit Disclaimer, one of the many tracks offered at SXSWi. We covered sessions that focused on digital health, design, and web and mobile development.

Digital Health SessionsThe Digital Health track had four full days of sessions that covered a variety of subjects, including applications that track fitness, collecting personal and other healthcare data, workplace wellness, and meaningful use for electronic medical records.

In a session titled, “Mobile's UnmentionablesExit Disclaimer,” we shared information on the more personal and intimate nature of HIV-related search queries from mobile devices. Specifically, we talked about how people often reveal more about themselves to their mobile devices than they might when talking to another person.

This may be because they have a personal connection with their phones. According to the Pew Internet & American Life ProjectExit Disclaimer, 29% of cell owners describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Whatever the reason behind the personal queries, this information helps us plan how we should provide HIV-related content to our users. It also reminds us that the HIV community has a responsibility to ensure HIV prevention and care content is easily available on mobile devices and tablets.

Design SessionsIn June 2012, became one of the first responsively designed websites among Federal agencies. A number of sessions at SXSWi confirmed that responsive design requires a high level of collaboration between all participants, including the designers and technical team, content authors, subject-matter experts, and communications leads. We use this collaborative process at, and it was nice to hear support for this approach coming from the technical leads of other large-scale responsive design projects.

Self Tracking SessionsA number of sessions focused on self-tracking health information. As we mentioned in a recent blog post, tracking and collecting data can be meaningful and lead to healthy behavior change, but it’s important to have a plan for how you will use the data you collect. Once you develop the plan and collect the data, it is crucial to offer the information in easy-to-use formats for your target audiences. For example, providers don’t have time to sort through pages and pages of data—but if they can access that information easily, it can help them better understand their patients’ behaviors and habits. To illustrate, providers who encourage the use of tools that track HIV medication adherence can help their clients stick to their treatment plans.

What’s Next?

For a number of years, SXSWi has been synonymous with launching “the next big thing” in social media (Twitter and Foursquare both debuted at SXSW). But this year lacked a standout champion—and perhaps that is as it should be. As the digital landscape matures, the likelihood of a new technology bursting onto the scene diminishes. Instead, a more common theme emerges: the best technology will enhance or improve our lives by making things easier to do, or making it easier to connect with other people. For the HIV community, it’s important for us to keep this in mind as we create programs that build on digital media and embrace best practices.