An Epidemiology Journey From Vectors and Movies to Hospital Innovation
John Brownstein is the Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Children’s Hospital. He’s a busy man, to say the least. Martin and I managed to get some time with him in his ‘new’ hometown of Boston. Exciting things first – if not for this coveted gig at Boston Children’s, John would be off making movies, especially given his experience (cameos in Contagion and Grey’s Anatomy).
John’s visits to Kenya and Uganda during his childhood years, and the movie ‘Outbreak’ on repeat at home (joking!) got him very interested in infectious disease epidemiology. He was so engrossed in his passion for zoonotic disease, that growing ticks and breeding of mosquitoes caused him to develop Lyme disease which forced him to think creatively about how he could use his passion for data sciences, disease in a different way – and that brought him to Boston to pursue research in health data (EMR and claims data mining, but 15 years ago). Boston at the time, and even now, is a hub for bioinformatics. So it was the right place for John to be.
Boston Children’s Hospital is one of the first to use Alexa and voice technology in the homes of their patients. This discussion with John coincided with Alexa becoming HIPAA compliant. Everything from serious vetting of privacy, security of patient data by their compliance teams to turning the ‘vocal’ information they collect into actionable insights – a lot of work has gone into making voice tech available to their patients (children), who are digital natives. So the choice was pretty simple. He also discusses his excitement for the next phase of voice tech in healthcare – vocal biomarkers for early identification of disease (not limited to pediatric populations).
Boston Childrens’ approach to innovation is simple – teamwork and clarity of thought among the leaders, streamlining processes so as to reduce a ‘patchwork’ of startups across their different service lines, encouraging physicians to think outside the box, and always keeping their internal and external lens open. Also, investment in middleware is the secret sauce to easier implementation and interoperability.