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October 25, 2019

Podcast #6: An Epidemiology Journey From Vectors and Movies to Hospital Innovation

Commentary
Chandana Fitzgerald

In this episode, we speak with John Brownstein, the Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children's Hospital. He’s a busy man, to say the least. Martin (Kelly) 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. 

Podcast #6: John Brownstein

Available on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher and Castbox

About John Brownstein: John is a Canadian epidemiologist and Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School as well as the Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. His research focuses on development of computational methods in epidemiology for applications to public health. He is the founder of several global public health surveillance systems including HealthMap. He is most known for his work on global tracking of disease outbreaks. Brownstein is co-founder of Epidemico, a commercial spinoff of Boston Children’s Hospital that was acquired by Booz Allen Hamilton in 2014. He is also the official advisor to Uber on healthcare applications where he started the UberHealth initiative.





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