An Explorer’s Delight


Two weeks ago I broke out of my comfort zone and attended an amazing conference in Austin called South by Southwest (SXSW).  Although this conference is better known for its film and music components, there is also an “interactive” session which brings together 15,000 of the most amazing social media, entrepreneurial, and IT minds in the country from every industry.  As the picture above suggests, this festival of creativity is quite a scene!  During these five days, innovators from every realm take the city of Austin by storm.  Everywhere you looked, people engaged every imaginable piece of technology to blog, tweet, post, or link the latest information hitting the scene.   

I chose to attend this conference because of a confluence of several interests that all emerge from my desire to understand why people do what they do.  Through my work, I strive to influence others to make choices that promote both their own wellbeing, as well as the physical and psychological health of the community as a whole.  I went to Austin with the hopes of discovering tools to encourage positive behavioral changes in both my weight management and general medicine patients which I found in the work of Noreen Kamal @noreenkamal at Vivospace.  Through my experience in health IT, I know that mobile health will play an increasingly large role in facilitating and improving patient care.  

The Mobile Health Revolution

In my affluent community in the northwest Chicago suburbs it seems that almost everyone owns a smartphone.  In a few short years, this perception will be the reality.  In fact, sixty-five percent of the population is predicted to own a smart phone by the year 2015.  The power of this vehicle to collect data and influence people has the attention of every industry, including healthcare.  In collaboration with Technical Doctor, Dr. Blodgett of the Thompson Memory Center, and Dr. Arora @Futuredocs of the University of Chicago, I have spent the past two months developing two unique mobile health solutions.  One application will enable us to evaluate therapies for Alzheimer’s and link caregivers and patients into a support network.  The other application will support better transitions from the hospital to the outpatient setting for patients with chronic diseases requiring frequent hospitalizations.  Today fifteen billion dollars is spent on patients who are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of their discharge.  Twelve billion of this is thought to be preventable with better follow up care in the outpatient setting.


In this photo you see me at SXSW with a few of the most inspiring people I’ve come across in the mobile health scene.  The two gentlemen in the photo, Steven Krein @stevenkrein and Unity Stoakes @unitystoakes, are the two co-founders of StartUpHealth.  This company’s mission is to improve healthcare in America by providing health and wellness entrepreneurs with inspiration, education, and access to customers, capital, and other critical resources.  With this help, startups can innovate more quickly and build new solutions that will improve care and reduce out of control healthcare costs.  I’m excited to share that I may apply to their StartUpHealth Academy to facilitate the promotion of my unique ideas. 

The woman in the photo is Dr. Jennifer Dyer who is a pediatric endocrinologist and social media queen better known as the @Endogoddess.  Love it!  This inspiring woman has developed several mobile health apps to improve care for diabetics and is a fashionista to boot!  I am so honored to have both her friendship and her mentorship as I explore the world of mobile health and social media, but I’ve told her to give up on me in terms of high-end fashion! J 

Behavioral Genetics

As a student of molecular biology, neuroscience, and human behavior, I have come to believe that each of us is a walking clinical trial in regards to our genetics, physique, lifestyle, consumption, location, and relationships.  At SXSW I was somewhat alarmed to learn that corporations are gathering data on every purchase we make, giving them insight into very personal areas of our lives–figured-teen-father-did.html.  My Facebook friends may also be surprised to know that CEO Mark Zuckerberg can determine by a person’s Facebook postings with 33% accuracy when a couple will break up!  Also shocking was that the popular app Foursquare can actually predict with amazing accuracy where a person will go next.

I’m currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by the brilliant Princeton psychology professor Daniel Kahneman.  This book describes the “instinctual” part of our nature (System 1) which drives most of what we do.  On some level, the entire concept of “free will” is questioned.  In a prior post I wrote about how the trait of “altruism” is actually genetic.

At SXSW I attended many talks that highlighted other behaviors that we think of as “choices” that actually have a genetic basis or are very predictable when you use data to determine what a person, or certain demographic of the population will prefer.  Most inspiring was the talk by Dr. Ravi Iyer @ Ravi_polipsych, the Founder and Data Scientist of with whom I was lucky enough to share a margarita and some conversation with as pictured below.


Dr. Iyer gave a compelling presentation that highlighted why emotional profiles are more important than demographic profiles, and astutely pointed out that we live in an age where consumption is about values (e.g. Whole Foods) and happiness (e.g. Zappos) rather than survival.  I encourage each of you to contribute to his research and better understand your own moral psychology by participating in the free surveys on his website.  Most interesting from his talk for me, though, was how we can use social networks to form moral agreement amongst people from different cultural backgrounds and ideologies.  This tied right in with my other new SXSW discovery, the politically-active, technology-loving comedian and Director of Digital for The Onion, Baratunde Thurston.  Baratunde gave an inspiring keynote speech about the role of technology, comedy, and satire in transforming the world around us.  An audio link to his talk is available at

Born into a “neighborhood just like The Wire” in Washington DC, Baratunde grew up surrounded by drug dealing, police brutality, and murders.  Despite living “in a black neighborhood under siege” Baratunde was blessed with an amazing mother, Arnita Thurston, who as a widow provided her son the opportunities and structure to ultimately lead to his graduation from Harvard University in 1999.  In his book, How To Be Black, Baratunde thanks his mother for helping him to survive his childhood.  As a result of her efforts and tutelage, Baratunde describes himself at twelve years old as “a bass-playing, tofu-eating, weekend-camping, karate-chopping, apartheid-hating, top-grade-getting, generally trouble-avoiding, agent of blackness.”  LOL!

Through a random twist of fate, I was lucky enough to engage this thoughtful, fun “agent of blackness” in a conversation at an Austin rooftop bar. 


After a freewheeling exchange of ideas that included Obama’s Accountable Care Act, race relations, and social media, I downloaded his book and have been enjoying every minute!  I think Baratunde’s book is a “must read” for every white person that doesn’t interact with the black community on a regular basis.  It’s one thing to study African American history, but yet another to understand the misperceptions between races that can lead to strain and even violence, as highlighted by the Trayvon Martin tragedy.  After reading Baratunde’s light-hearted but poignant book, I’m proud to report that I’m much “blacker” than I was a month ago! 😉

So those are the SXSW highlights I’ve finally found the time to share.  Although I was initially intimidated by the size and intensity of this fast moving scene, I’m happy that I strayed from my typical “doctor” conferences to learn some completely new things.  I’ll close with my favorite (and only!) Japanese Proverb brought to my attention in one of @DrHelenFisher’s books (another personal idol I met at SXSW!) “Let us not follow where the path may lead.  Let us go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.”







About Kara Nance MD

Kara Nance, MD FACP currently works in private practice in Rolling Meadows, IL. Dr. Nance approaches the care of her patients with a very holistic attitude that targets the many factors that contribute to overall wellbeing. She is a mother of 4 young children, and often brings her personal life experiences into play when helping her patients solve problems relating to life balance. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Nance is passionate about electronic medical records and the establishment of electronic health exchanges. She consults with local physicians, hospitals, and medical groups about transitioning over to electronic medical records. Kara also participates in advocacy activities relating to primary care. As a Fellow in the American College of Physicians and a member of the ACP's Northern Illinois Council, Dr. Nance frequently travels to Washington to lobby for important issues in health care reform.
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4 Responses to An Explorer’s Delight

  1. Oh, it is a brave new world, and I am impressed at your courage in diving right into it.

  2. Bill Greaney says:

    Where do you find the time to read all those books? I’m still waiting for you to write a book.

  3. Michelle Aragon says:

    I believe I recently heard Dr. Kahneman being interviewed on NPR recently, or at least it was someone discussing free will vs. our hard wired behaviors – fascinating! And regarding Baratunde Thurston — his book is on my must read list and I have to say I am envious you met him!

  4. Joe Lindley says:

    Hi. I picked up your website from Jimmy Moore’s New Paleo, Low-Carb & Health Blogs list for May 2012. I run a low carb/paleo blog and want to welcome you to the neighborhood! Jimmy has been a great help to me and if I can help you, just let me know. I run a news channel on my site (see below), so if you have some low carb or paleo news you’d like me to consider, please let me know at my email address: Joe at CravingSugar.netPut "news" someplace in your email title so I won’t miss it, please! My main site is and the news channel is and hope to hear from you……Joe Lindley…

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