Each year, Intouch heads to South by Southwest to talk to experts, share insights, and get inspired by the most creative minds in the world. On the ground, we debrief, connect the dots, and distill our findings to the themes and actions that will mean the most to our teams and clients. Here’s the second of our dispatches from SXSW 2019.

Data has always been vital to science. But today’s artificial-intelligence-powered breakthroughs cannot function without vast quantities of high-quality data. Data is the air AI breathes; the blood that keeps the AI heart pumping – choose your own metaphor.

This sounds great at first. Data? We have more data today than we know what to do with. According to IBM, 90% of all data ever was created in the past two years: 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. That sounds like enough data to do anything. But it’s not quite that easy.

Three Main Complications Exist – But Pharma Can Help With Each 

First: some systems still aren’t optimized to collect data, or the right data, or do it efficiently or effectively. Electronic health records are widespread, but anyone reading this can think of a recent time in which they had to answer questions about health information using paper and pen.

What Pharma Can Do: “Information shouldn’t be a privilege,” as Dr. Rashmi Kudesia said at SXSW. Everyone wants fascinating, sci-fi, AI solutions, but the reality is that, to get AI that truly matches expectations and isn’t just smoke and mirrors, it requires a lot of painstaking, behind-the-scenes work that isn’t very glamorous: compliant processes built carefully, followed by extensive, ongoing data gathering, processing, storage and analysis.

The work will pay off, though. As Dr. Edward Ellison of Permanente said, the more data we bring together, the better predictions will be, and the better interventions will be.

Second: The often-justified privacy worries of consumers and regulators mean that it can be difficult to get approval to collect and analyze useful data. “It creeps people out,” admitted venture capitalist Lisa Suennen, “but it’s being done.” Regulations like Europe’s GDPR are beginning to help the public feel safer, but there’s much still to be done.

What Pharma Can Do: We can help the public understand what’s really in play, and see that it’s much more helpful and not as scary as they might think. We’re far from AI fully diagnosing patients, as Dr. Ira Nash said. AI systems can be trained very specifically to work well, but as he pointed out, while they might catch a lung nodule on an X-ray, they would miss the broken rib on the same scan.

What data-powered systems will do, though, he explained, is change the location of testing: “Technology moves tests from medical to consumer environments.” Brands can look at how AI systems could help their patients and HCPs by making diagnosis and monitoring simpler, easier, and cheaper. This can help make compliance – and managing health – that much easier.

Third, and related to the first two: Far too much data still lives in stubbornly siloed data sets that are unable to work together. In “How Blockchain Can Tackle the Opioid Epidemic,” we learned how many different organizations, working in parallel to create tech solutions to help opioid addiction, are hindered by the inability to share data.

What Pharma Can Do: Dr. Ellison quoted Bill Gates: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.” The end of that quotation is, “Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

Science hasn’t mastered precision medicine yet; the world isn’t running on blockchain; your refrigerator doesn’t build you a dinner recipe based on your blood pressure and weight. The experts at SXSW acknowledged this. “Genetically targeted treatment is way more complicated than we thought,” said Dr. Nash frankly.

But just because we’re not living in the Jetsons’ future doesn’t mean we aren’t living in the future. As Suennen pointed out, instead of precision medicine right now, we can be thinking about “precision health.” We can use digital therapeutics to figure out what will help patients to stay adherent; when they might be struggling; how we can help.

The pharmaceutical industry – and pharma marketers – have more data-powered abilities and possibilities at our fingertips than our predecessors ever dreamed possible, and if we take advantage of them now, our brands will be able to succeed today, and help even more people tomorrow.

More From SXSW
If you weren’t able to make it to SXSW 2019, read more of our recaps:

The Trifecta Stalking Patients, HCPs … and All of Us: Isolation, Loneliness, Distrust