top of page
  • Greg Weintraub

Digital Phenotypes : Under the hood of Healthcare Innovation with Dr Jared Hawkins

Jared Hawkins, director of informatics at Boston Children’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA), brings a formidable skill set to his work. With a PhD in Immunology from Tufts University School of Medicine and an MMSc in Biomedical Informatics from Harvard Medical School, his background combines biomedical research (immunology, virology, oncology, genomics) with data science, visualization, computational modeling and software development. His current work spans an equally diverse range of topics, touching on population and public health, patient experience, decision support and pharmacogenomics.

A faculty member in the Computational Health Informatics Program, Hawkins is wired into the digital health ecosystem. He serves as a scientific advisor and co-founder of Raiing Medical (home temperature and fertility tracking) and is the head of engineering and co-founder of Circulation (non-emergency medical transportation via Uber).

The common thread: mining health data to improve the quality of patient care, and developing a better understanding of individual and population health. Constructing a ‘digital phenotype’ from previously inaccessible data Hawkins’s deep passion is extracting actionable insights from previously invisible and inaccessible healthcare data. That includes non-traditional digital data streams.

“Through social media, search engines, online communities, wearable technologies and mobile devices, people are generating an enormous amount of health-related data that can provide deep insight to individual and population health,” he says.

Hawkins refers to these sources of information as the digital phenotype.

The digital phenotype encompasses a huge volume of real-time data (consider the 313 million monthly active users on Twitter alone). Those data enable Hawkins to identify and analyze sub-populations over space and time to investigate problems like sleep disorders and infectious disease.

One current project, CrowdClinical, captures another aspect of the digital phenotype —patient experience — by monitoring real-time discussions about health care on social media. Using machine learning and sentiment-analysis techniques, CrowdClinical scrapes data from social media and patient portals to glean insights into what consumers value. The result: real-time patient experience data on a hospital-by-hospital basis — feedback that could ultimately help hospitals make improvements. Protecting public health Hawkins’s team is also pursuing digital detective work around foodborne illnesses.

His team has developed efficient machine learning methods for analyzing social media data — like tweets from people reporting food poisoning. These methods can differentiate between relevant and irrelevant reports of foodborne illness and track geographical locations of implicated restaurants.

To date, the team has extracted, digested and processed billions of event-based data points. Their efforts could augment foodborne disease surveillance and improve food safety. Public health officials utilizing this tool can view and evaluate reports within their jurisdiction and engage users by responding to their tweets. In the first seven months of a pilot in St. Louis, the platform captured more than 440 tweets about food poisoning, of which 193 were of public health importance.

Most recently, Hawkins’s team showed that a Boston Children’s app called Thermia, coupled with a commercially available wearable thermometer, predicted seasonal influenza outbreaks in China one month faster than national surveillance programs. “Jared’s ability to steer multiple projects is unlike any I’ve seen before,” says Gaurav Tuli, a data scientist at IDHA who Hawkins has mentored for several years. “It has made a dramatic improvement in the productivity of the whole team. Jared truly encourages creativity and innovation through his work.”

MedTech Boston’s 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators for 2017

Dr. Jared Hawkins works at the intersection of medicine, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Alongside his roles as the Director of Informatics at the Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator at Boston Children’s Hospital and Instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Hawkins is also the co-founder of the healthcare transportation start-up, Circulation.

The application of technology and data to patient care is one of Hawkins’ professional passions. “My work in healthcare stems from a strong desire to improve patient care, by using new data streams and technologies to improve clinical care, better understand patient behavior, and enhance the patient experience,” he says.

Hawkins laid the groundwork for his career with a PhD in Immunology from Tufts Medical School and a MMSc in Biomedical Informatics from Harvard Medical School. It was at Harvard Medical School that he met his mentor, colleague, and business partner, Dr. John Brownstein.

Their friendship changed Hawkins’ career path. Brownstein, now Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and himself a past “40 Under 40” award recipient, is both a respected researcher and serial entrepreneur. Working together made a big difference, Hawkins notes, “Early in my career I was focused on basic research. I found that I much prefer the satisfaction of working with my team on something tangible.”

Brownstein has nothing but praise for Hawkins. He notes, “Jared represents what it truly means to be an inter-disciplinary health tech innovator. How many people out there can run a clinical trial while at the same time spin up a cloud server to host the data for that very trial? He is a true pioneer in data science and population health.”

Hawkins’ diverse skills and interests have led him in many directions. In 2015, he built on Brownstein’s efforts to mine Twitter and other social media platforms for health-related insights, showing that sentiment analytics could help hospitals measure and improve their patient experience metrics.

More recently, Hawkins has collaborated with Brownstein and other colleagues to launch Circulation. The company’s opportunity is intriguing and large: partnering with Uber to help the estimated 3.6 million patients who miss medical appointments every year due to lack of access to transportation. They’re off to an exciting start.

When he is not working, Hawkins enjoys spending time with his wife Erin, and their two young children.

Screenshot 2023-11-06 at 13.13.55.png
bottom of page