Digital health, innovation and partnerships: A Q&A with Boston Children’s Chief Innovation Officer


During the last decade or so, health care has been rapidly transforming from a reactive, paper-based system to a responsive digital model.

Massachusetts, under Gov. Charlie Baker’s leadership, has launched a comprehensive public-private partnership to accelerate the state’s digital health care sector. The partnership has identified multiple ways to drive investment and growth in the state.

Technology transfer from universities to private companies is just one example. In the past, each transfer required completely new agreements. Three new standardized templates for licensing, technology transfer and sponsored research will help facilitate these processes. In 2016, the partnership will expand its Mentorship Speakers Series with a stronger focus on digital health care. Finally, the Digital Healthcare Innovation Hub and Accelerator will provide a space to support and grow new digital health companies in Boston.

Vector visited with John Brownstein, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Chief Innovation Officer, to better understand the background and potential impact of this new initiative.

How do you see the state of digital health today?

Digital health is experiencing tremendous growth in the U.S. The Massachusetts medical, research and biotech clusters make this state the perfect place to launch new digital health products and ventures. The state has a high electronic health record penetration rate and a strong state-sponsored health information exchange to facilitate secure communication among providers, payers and other health care organizations.

The result is a significant opportunity to create jobs, attract investment and improve health care delivery.

What will this mean for patients?

Digital health is really about improving clinical outcomes and care experiences for patients. When technology can be thoughtfully integrated into clinical practice, that becomes an incredible opportunity to impact the care delivered to patients and families.

Take Trivox Health, a venture launched out of Boston Children’s Hospital that is improving care decisions by using technology to identify signs of adverse health events before they happen. This disease management platform is currently monitoring thousands of patients at Boston Children’s and several private practices. Neuro’motion, another venture born out of Boston Children’s research, is creating evidence-based therapies for children with emotional or behavioral needs through mobile app-based games.

It sounds like digital health is doing well in Massachusetts. What’s driving this initiative?

Digital health is in excellent shape, yet there is an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate digital health care today. Spurred by a trend towards value-based reimbursement models, digital health solutions are receiving enthusiastic attention from venture investors and health systems — all wanting to keep pace with increasingly connected patients and families.

How does Boston Children’s fit into this?

Boston Children’s has doubled down on its investment in digital health. Leveraging Boston Children’s clinical informatics and software innovation development programs, our Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA) is extending the hospital’s leadership in pediatrics by building new technologies, collaborating with companies and deploying a comprehensive digital health platform. IDHA’s digital capabilities are being brought together with the expertise and convening power of the Technology Innovation and Development Office (TIDO) and our Global Pediatric Innovation Summit and Awards.

IDHA sources innovative ideas from industry and within Boston Children’s to develop high-priority competitive solutions with scalable impact. Leveraging its extensive business and technical capabilities, IDHA then identifies viable commercialization pathways for these innovations.

TIDO is industry’s gateway to Boston Children’s biomedical innovations, researchers and technologies for both pediatric and adult applications. TIDO has full responsibility for the protection, marketing and commercialization of all hospital intellectual property and non-patentable intellectual property such as research tools, software and know-how.

What companies or partnerships have emerged from Boston Children’s initiatives?

Boston Children’s has continued to lead in digital health as evidenced by multiple successful ventures: Epidemico, ACT.MD, OPENPediatrics and Wired Informatics.

Epidemico is a commercial spinoff from Boston Children’s, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company delivers surveillance systems and consumer-friendly tools to provide early insights, continuous monitoring and consumer engagement for a range of population health domains., started at Boston Children’s, was incubated at the Harvard Innovation Lab and supported by Rose Park Advisors. It delivers informatics-based tools for care coordination.

OPENPediatrics is an open-access, online clinical educational platform sponsored by Boston Children’s in collaboration with the World Federation of Pediatric Intensive and Critical Care Societies. This global online community shares best practices across all resource settings through collaboration and digital learning.

Wired Informatics, a startup launched by Boston Children’s researchers, extracts knowledge from unstructured data across the health care ecosystem through its Leading Edge Enterprise Ready Natural Language Processing (NLP) Technology. This technology brings actionable patient data to the forefront to drive meaningful results in real time.

Just as important are the innovations emerging from collaborations with startup and corporate partners like Kinsights, TigerText, Buoy, Grand Rounds and Inspire. By developing alongside these partners, we’re able to deliver highly customized solutions to our clinicians and patients. In an upcoming pilot, Kinsights will help form digital connections between parents of children in our neonatal intensive care unit while connecting families with the resources and knowledge to best care for their child.

Going beyond our walls is where digital health gets really exciting. Through a partnership with Grand Rounds, a Series C venture-backed startup, we’re bringing online second opinions to remote regions across the U.S. and globally. This is one of those perfect examples where technology and a user-experience-focused approach are uncovering new models of care. By bringing world-class pediatric expertise online, families without the means to travel to Boston can still receive expert support in the diagnosis and treatment of their child.

Currently, IDHA is accelerating two promising digital health innovations: Neuro’motion and Trivox Health. Boston Children’s also recently announced a strategic partnership with digital health venture fund Rock Health, aimed at accelerating the development of pediatric health technologies.