Boston Children's healthcare IT: Ready for investment

Boston Children’s is burgeoning with healthcare IT development and opportunities, ready for investment.

John Brownstein and Ken Mandl

In the current market climate, interest in financial investment to build companies commercializing Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) has been on the rise, particularly relative to investments that have been a mainstay of venture investing for decades: start-up companies developing therapeutic drugs and medical devices. From the financial perspective, the HIT market offers a number of benefits in comparison. The capital required to run a software company is substantially lower than the cost of drug development and there are fewer FDA regulatory hurdles, which means a quick time to market and faster returns. Introduction of the HITECH Act and other policy changes to the healthcare system have incentivized institutions to purchase electronic medical records and other IT systems to increase efficiency and save money, which is essential as organizations move to bundled payment system. The ever-increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets among practitioners means adoption, historically a big problem for IT systems in the clinical environment, may no longer be a barrier. These factors combine to make a favorable market climate for HIT, and Boston Children’s is burgeoning with opportunities in this area that are ready for investment. Children’s has a high number of entrepreneurial clinician-informaticians who are highly motivated to create novel ways to solve problems and many are doing so by developing new methods that utilize electronic health care or novel smartphone applications.

Children’s Hospital Informatics Program and Electronic Health Records

The Children’s Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP) is internationally known for exciting innovations such as the Personal Health Record (PHR) Indivo, which is one of the first of its kind and has been widely distributed by Dossia. CHIP investigators developed i2b2, an informatics search engine that helps hospitals and other institutions query across patient data sets. An exciting feature of i2b2 includes the ability to organize clinician notes in a semantically relevant structure by using Natural Language Processing Algorithms. Another effort ties these two technologies together. The SMART platform, allows for both Indivo and i2b2 to share information with existing electronic medical records. The SMART platform is a universal interface that allows EHR's to share data across institutions or talk to externally developed apps, an “iPhone like” approach to medical records. Since interoperability has always been the greatest hurdle in the clinical IT industry, the SMART platform is likely to have considerable impact with end-users.

Online epidemiology data websites

CHIP is the home of John Brownstein, PhD, who directs the Computational Epidemiology Group. Dr. Brownstein’s group created HealthMap, a website displaying geocoded data to identify infectious disease outbreak trends. This technology crawls Internet data points pulled from blogs, local new sources and even accounts from patient report data entered from smartphones. This group also created MedWatcher, a mobile tool that allows patients and clinicians to submit adverse drug events to the FDA using a simple form directly from their smartphones. Doctors have traditionally been responsible for all reporting of adverse events but including direct patient reports will vastly expand these data. Also, the public is able to see anonymous reported side effects in the app, without waiting for official FDA reports.

Disease management web portal

Eugenia Chan, MD, MPH, assistant in Medicine and an ADHD specialist, has developed a new patient portal to allow doctors to collect information about ADHD patients between visits. This information is displayed graphically so that physicians can see trends overtime that help them make decisions about treatment regimens or visit frequency.

Healthcare App


Clinicians across the hospital are designing new software tools to help improve workflow. Debra Weiner, MD, PhD, director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, recognized that communication and hand off between practitioners in a care team was not as streamlined as it could be. She designed a smartphone app that allows team members to communicate about lab results or other pieces of information via a Twitter-like communication interface called BEAPPER.


The selected technologies and other software solutions at Boston Children’s are positioned for commercial partnerships to benefit a wider audience--and when turned into products, they could have a profound and lasting impact on the standard of care, while also providing a healthy financial return. Please contact Alan Yen [alan.yen@childrens.harvard.edu] for more information.

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