Tech Tonics: Dr. Ken Mandl – Forging Connection Through Technology

September 14th, 2020 |
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Ken Mandl has a gift for listening to other people, whether they’re mentors offering the advice that shaped his career in pediatrics and informatics at Boston’s Children Hospital and Harvard Medical School, or helping physicians and patients learn from each other by making it easier for them to share information.  He’s a pioneering leader of a long-anticipated era whose time, it seems, has finally arrived.

The son of a physicist and an English professor, Ken Mandl’s family settled in the Boston area when he was five and, except for a brief college detour to Providence, he’s been shoveling winter snow there ever since.

A biology and psychology major at Brown, Ken expected to study child psychology but was drawn toward med school by a conspicuously intense premed roommate (who apparently hadn’t received the Brown memo…).  Presumably recognizing the value of competitive peers in raising his game, Ken then matriculated at Harvard Medical School, arriving at a particularly auspicious time.  He was a member of the first class of a bold new medical education program called “New Pathway,” featuring small-group learning led by luminaries such as (in Ken’s case) legendary surgeon-innovator Judah Folkman (see here).

Ken’s training continued in pediatrics and emergency medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.  While and ER doctor there, he appeared as a prosecution witness (for a tragic case of “shaken baby syndrome”) on one of the earliest Court TV cases, where he was cross-examined by noted defense attorney Barry Scheck.

While Ken’s student research experience was in traditional molecular biology, he found himself drawn to an intriguing new program focused on clinical effectiveness.  After receiving some particularly wise counsel from noted Harvard physician-scientist Howard Hiatt (who Ken describes as “a gentleman and a scholar”), Ken connected with Dr. Troy Brennan (now Chief Medical Officer of CVS Health), and embarked on a fascinating research project looking at the impact of maternal length-of-stay on obstetrics outcomes, which led to some intriguing (if initially controversial) publications.

Ken then joined forces professionally with his friend (and previous Tech Tonics guest) Dr. Zak Kohane, who had recently founded a pioneering informatics program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Ken recognized an important opportunity at the intersection of technology, clinical medicine and population health.   While initially struggling for funding given the novelty of the field – in fact, his grants would be critiqued simultaneously as proposing research that “can’t be done” and which “had already been done by the dot coms.”  Nevertheless, his research soon gained traction and his career took off.

Today, a Professor of Pediatrics and Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School, Ken directs the Computational Health Informatics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is a founder of modern approaches to biosurveillance and is perhaps best known for his work and leadership driving the development of an “app store model for health IT innovation” SMART on FHIR – an initiative David described several years ago Forbesas “our last, best hope for interoperability.”

We are grateful to Manatt Health for sponsoring today’s episode of Tech Tonics.  Manatt Health integrates strategic business consulting, public policy acumen, legal excellence and deep analytics capabilities to better serve the complex needs of clients across America’s healthcare system. Together with it’s parent company, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the firm’s multidisciplinary team is dedicated to helping its clients across all industries grow and prosper.

Show notes:
David’s Astounding HealthTech column for Timmerman Report on the recent Duke real world evidence conference – “Closing medicine’s feedback gap: Can tech help integrate clinical care and clinical research?”

David’s related 2019 commentary in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics – “A Drug Is not an Outcome: Extending Translation Through Implementation Using Real-World Data”

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Posted in: Audio Podcast, Healthcare, Tech Tonics, Technology