Health innovation insider: 7 rapid-fire Qs with Boston Children's Chief Innovation Officer Dr. John Brownstein

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a new light on the importance of digital technologies within the practice of medicine and has served as a catalysis to boost innovation, according to John Brownstein, PhD.

As chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, Dr. Brownstein has led numerous digital health innovation initiatives to adapt care during the pandemic.

Here, he shares some of his rapid-fire thoughts on innovation initiatives his health system has spearheaded during the pandemic and what improvements he still wants to see from the industry.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What COVID-19 data dashboard do you find yourself checking the most? 

Dr. John Brownstein: Our Health Map platform, which we run ourselves.

Q: If you had to choose just one, which one of your organization's IT achievements has made you the most proud during the pandemic?

JB: We have a lot, but I'd say the Vaccine Finder platform we're about to launch with CDC Operation Warp Speed. Americans can use it to figure out where to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months, so this project is probably going to have the biggest impact of anything we've done.

Q: In which ways do you think the pandemic has catalyzed innovation in health IT?

JB: I think we have the building blocks, but it has sort of brought everyone to the table to understand why digital is so integral to the practice of medicine.

Q: How do you think the pandemic has shined a greater light on predictive analytics?

JB: I think recognizing the fact that with an emerging virus there was a need to develop tools to understand and predict diagnosis especially in the absence of testing, so the idea that chatbots and symptom trackers could help make projections about confirmed illness or sort of broader recognition that these other tools can be helpful in the future.

Q: How would you most like to see health IT further adapt to the pandemic?

JB: We don't have a great connection between public health data and clinical practice. That's something that's been an issue for a long time, but how do we leverage population health data and bring that into clinical decision making in a more integrated way.

Q: What's the first word that comes to mind when you think about your innovation team's response to COVID-19? 

JB: Resilient. 

Q: What's been the biggest roadblock to COVID-19 innovation? 

JB: It's just an abundance of opportunities; it is disciplined in how we select options and having the sort of discipline to say no because it's opened up just an incredible world of opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways.

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