Boston Children's CIO talks new accelerator, Amazon Echo partnership

By Jonah Comstock
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Under new innovation chief John Brownstein, Boston Children's Hospital is looking both outward and inward for new medical technologies, including some planned work with Amazon's Echo team, Brownstein told Xconomy in a recent interview.

About three months ago, BCH revamped its Innovation Accelerator program into a new accelerator called IDHA (Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator) which draws on the work of about 50 hospital employees. The accelerator doesn't make equity investments in companies, but it does invest "in-kind resources."

Internal innovation at Boston Children's isn't really news: a number of technologies have been developed at Boston Children's over the years. We wrote about several last year, including nursing app RNsafe, disease tracking software HealthMap, a seizure warning system, a clinical audiology app, and a number of social media innovations that came out of BCH spin-off Epidemico, that was acquired by Booz Allen Hamilton in 2014.

The big news here is the new focus on external partnerships in addition to internal innovation. Last November, the hospital announced it was partnering with IBM to use Watson to help clinicians identify possible diagnosis and treatment options for rare pediatric diseases and partnering with Grand Rounds to provide parents with second opinions for medical issues online. It's also working with digital health-focused seed fund Rock Health to speed up the development of pediatric-focused digital health technologies.

In addition to the three partnerships announced last year, Brownstein told Xconomy there's a partnership in the works with Amazon to “embed Children’s Hospital know-how” in the Amazon Echo, the company's Bluetooth speaker that doubles as a voice control hub for connected home devices and services. 

This would be the second health-focused partnership for Amazon Echo in a fairly short timeframe, as the company just added Fitbit integration earlier this month. Just what that partnership will entail, Brownstein wouldn't say, but some of his other comments in the interview suggest a direction. 

“If we’re going to expand our reach, it’s not necessarily going to be [through] our workforce,” he told Xconomy. “How do we take our know-how and turn it into decision support, so it can be embedded in apps on [electronic medical records systems], or devices, or Web-based tools?”

Boston Children's is also heavily invested in Apple's ResearchKit, with two studies now underway, one dealing with Hepatitis C and one focusing on fever.