Stories about: Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator

Under the hood of healthcare innovation: Gajen Sunthara and leveraging EHRs

Gajen Sunthara
(Photo: Greg Weintraub)

What does it take to be an innovator changing our healthcare system for the better? This two-part series profiles two digital health innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital who were named among MedTech Boston’s 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators for 2017.

Gajen Sunthara, MSc, has two innovation passions: healthcare policy and electronic health records (EHRs). With professional experiences spanning technology, business and government, he finds himself in a position to effect change in a way that few others can.

“Gajen’s passion for healthcare is evident from the moment that you meet him,” says Farhanah Sheets, a software engineer at Boston Children’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA) who reports to Sunthara. “No matter how big or small the idea, he brings a level of excitement to each project that is contagious.”

As director of Innovation R&D for IDHA, Sunthara is leading significant efforts around EHR interoperability — the ability of healthcare information systems to exchange and use each other’s data. He’s also focused on creating applications that can easily be integrated into any EHR system.

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Predicting influenza outbreaks faster with a digitally-empowered wearable device

Influenza viruses. Outbreaks can be predicted using digital health tools like Thermia.The Thermia online health educational tool, developed at Boston Children’s Hospital, has enabled one-month-faster prediction of seasonal influenza outbreaks in China, via its digital integration with a commercially-available wearable thermometer. The findings appear in a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

 “The fact that we were able to predict influenza outbreaks faster than China’s national surveillance programs really shows the capacity for everyday, wearable digital health devices to track the spread of disease at the population level,” says the study’s lead author Yulin Hswen, who is a research fellow in Boston Children’s Computational Epidemiology Group and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

China has 620 million mobile internet users who can theoretically access the standalone Thermia application from any computer, smartphone or even the Amazon Alexa assistant.

Although the Boston Children’s team has previously demonstrated that social media can be used to track disease, this is the first time they’ve shown that outbreaks can be predicted through an integrated wearable device and online tool.

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Lessons from the data: Applying machine learning for clinical decision support

machine learning clinical decision support

Mauricio Santillana, PhD, faculty member in the Computational Health Informatics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, had an idea as he witnessed the volume of continuous real-time data generated in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). He realized that tapping the data on patients’ ever-changing vital signs, with the help of machine-learning algorithms, could support clinical decision-making and predict (and help head off) up-coming health issues.

He started a dialogue with the hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator, and now collaborates closely with clinicians in the PICU to create machine-learning algorithms that can help them provide the highest level of care.

“It’s fairly recent that clinicians realized people with backgrounds in math and statistics can be very helpful in a clinical context,” says Santillana

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A 30-minute screening test for dyslexia?

dyslexia screening test
A dyslexia screening app in development could flag children at risk as early as age 4, when interventions are most effective.

Ten to 12 percent of school-aged children have dyslexia. It’s typically diagnosed in second or third grade, only after a child has struggled unsuccessfully at reading. As Nadine Gaab, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital puts it, diagnosis is primarily based upon a “wait-to-fail-approach.” And that comes along with considerable psychological damage and stigma.

“Late diagnosis of dyslexia very often leads to low self-esteem, depression and antisocial behavior,” she says. A much better time to look for early signs of dyslexia would be kindergarten or first grade. With early intervention, many children can attain an average reading ability.

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2017 Innovators’ Showcase spotlights healthcare decision support

2017 Innovator's Showcase Boston Children's Hospital

Healthcare innovations will be on display next week — April 12 — at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator’s annual showcase. The event, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., will be kicked off by a discussion on clinical decision support with Doug Perrin, a bioengineer/computer scientist in Cardiac Surgery at Boston Children’s and Garry Steil, who is developing a glucose control technology for diabetes patients at the hospital.

Exhibits, demos and mingling will take place in the Patient Entertainment Center off the main hospital lobby (300 Longwood Avenue, Boston).

Among the roughly 20 apps, ventures and technologies on display:

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Designing from the bottom up: Guiding healthcare stakeholders through ideation

healthcare co-design

At a recent event, Michelle Domey, mother of a child with special health care needs, found herself sharing her experience with a design expert, describing recent telehealth appointments at Boston Children’s Hospital. “My son feels like he’s having a private appointment, even though I’m sitting next to him, and his doctor is miles away,” she reflected. “Who thought that was possible through a tablet or a computer?”

As adult patients nodded in agreement, the group began to think about how to leverage Michelle’s experience to design support systems for kids with special health care needs. A software engineer expanded Michelle’s comment into a vision of the classroom of the future — a learning environment fully equipped with remote learning solutions for children with special health care needs, and environmental sensors for children with severe food allergies and health risks. The Olin College Co-Design for Better Health Innovation Lab was well underway.

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Developing a startup: bringing your healthcare innovation to market

a digital health startup

Sixth and last in an on-going series of Innovator’s Roadmap posts from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA). Matt Murphy is Innovation Lead at IDHA.

We recently provided guidelines for selecting a platform and developing a Minimal Viable Product to take your digital health innovation beyond the prototype stage and create meaningful iterations. Once a Minimum Viable Product has been developed, numerous commercialization pathways are available, such as licensing an innovation to an existing company. But for many innovators, the best path may involve forming a startup company.

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7 digital health tips: Selecting a platform and developing a minimal viable product

digital health

Fifth in an ongoing series of Innovator’s Roadmap posts from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA). Matt Murphy is Innovation Lead at IDHA.

We recently provided guidelines for developing prototypes of digital health products incorporating user-centered design and feedback from multiple sources. Let’s assume you’ve gone through multiple cycles of design updates, informed by your project goals and requirements, regulatory considerations and your long-term business or clinical strategy. Now, it’s time to select a technology platform and begin developing a fully functioning prototype of your innovation — your minimum viable product (MVP).

Below are some technical and tactical considerations to ensure your innovation’s long-term success and sustainability.

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Four prototyping strategies to test your healthcare innovation

digital health prototyping - paper sketch

Fourth in an ongoing series of Innovator’s Roadmap posts from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA). Matt Murphy is Innovation Lead at IDHA.

We recently provided guidelines for designing for digital health, a process that requires a complete understanding of the pain point a technology aims to solve. So let’s assume you’ve defined your project goals, brainstormed solutions with critical stakeholders and written up the project requirements. What happens after this design process is complete?

Your next step is developing a prototype, a critical output of user-centered design.

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4 tactical steps to designing for digital health

design digital health

Third in an ongoing series of Innovator’s Roadmap posts from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA). Matt Murphy is Innovation Lead at IDHA.

We recently provided market sizing guidelines for healthcare innovators — strategies to help you determine your innovation’s total number of potential users and your sales opportunities. Next, we’ll take you through our approach to designing digital health products.

The research and design phase is a critical step in the development and commercialization of digital health innovations. This phase is often referred to as user-centered design or human factors design. It requires a significant investment in understanding your users (including clinicians, clinical teams, patients and/or caregivers) and their pain points (problems they repeatedly experience) before developing a technology-based solution.

In our initial consultations with innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital, we spend only a small amount of time discussing end technology solutions. Instead, we seek to understand the intended users, their pain points and how they will interact with the innovation, including clinical, workflow and business considerations.

It’s market research taken a step further. We recommend you follow a specific four-step procedure to optimize the research and design phase.

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