When Brownstein arrived at Children’s Hospital in 2005, he discovered a way to combine his interest in large-scale models of disease with his other interests, namely mathematics, geography, ecology and computer science. “I realized that the hospital, like just about every other hospital at the time, was sitting on a huge amount of untapped data in the form of electronic medical records,” says Brownstein. The discovery of this and other data collections led him to develop HealthMap in 2006, an online public health surveillance tool that enabled epidemiologists to monitor emerging public health threats. One year later he spun off Epidemico, a private informatics company that offers advanced monitoring and consumer engagement tools for public health threats.
“I suddenly found myself at the forefront of a kind of epidemiology that didn’t have a name yet,” says Brownstein. “Today it’s most commonly referred to as digital epidemiology.”
Currently, Dr. Brownstein is the Chief Innovation Officer at Children’s Hospital where he uses his experience as an entrepreneur to help innovators “shepherd promising ideas to the point of licensing the technology or forming a startup.” In 2015, Brownstein and his team launched the Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator, which provides innovators at BCH with the tools and support their startups need to succeed.
For Brownstein, involving doctors and institutions in the creation of digital health tools is essential to providing patients with the best possible care. “Digital health is really going to be the cornerstone of what we do,” says Brownstein of the future of healthcare. “Brick and mortar will always be important, but so much of that crucial health-related interaction is taking place virtually.”
As someone who has had a fairly itinerant career path, Brownstein has the following advice for young innovators: “The really successful young professionals of the future will be the ones who find ways to bring their diverse interests to their healthcare work,” he says. “You can’t see where your career will lead you, but focus on the subjects you have a passion for and you’ll be able to create something very unique and valuable.”
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