As our world becomes more and more interconnected, infectious diseases are a growing threat to populations far beyond the borders of Canada―SARS, Ebola and Zika are all recent examples. Where some saw crisis from these devastating epidemics, one physician saw the opportunity to fuel an award-winning innovation.
On today’s episode of Boldy, Tamara Mason, Communications Director at Joule, is joined by Dr. Kamran Khan, infectious disease physician, scientist at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and founder of BlueDot. Dr. Khan shares with us how he connected the dots to fill the gaps he saw in infectious disease and public health―and how it inspired him to build a solution by converging a multitude of technologies such as AI and data―which is making a difference in Canada and beyond.
tweetable: Our health now is more closely connected to the health of every other person on the planet―more so than it’s ever been.
In the midst of the SARS outbreak, Dr. Khan’s eyes were opened to the crippling effects spreading infectious diseases can truly have. This outbreak inspired him to found BlueDot, a solution which predicted an outbreak of Zika in Florida, six months before it actually occurred. Listen as Dr. Khan shares what he believes to be the connection between risk and innovation, as well as his future plans for BlueDot.
tweetable: SARS was really my calling.
What is BlueDot and what motivated him to create it?
- What about the SARS outbreak inspired him to enter the innovation space and forge a path to building the world’s first global early warning system for infectious disease risks, BlueDot.
- BlueDot produces insights for the government, businesses, and individuals so they can protect themselves and those around them from these types of dangerous infectious diseases.
- To do so, he combined public health and medical expertise with advanced data analytics to build solutions that track, contextualize and anticipate infectious disease risks.
tweetable: Over 4 billion [plane] tickets that are sold every single year are now connected―this is all anonymously. But in a way that allows us to understand where outbreaks are happening in the world and how those outbreaks are likely to spread.
Since receiving a Joule Innovation grant in 2016, what has Dr. Khan achieved?
- Dr. Khan discusses his company’s growth―they have evolved quite a bit since the grant.
- His team has become experts in data analytics and forecasting, as well as product design and development.
- Zebra, one of their products, curates news of infectious diseases from official and unofficial sources from all around the world about every fifteen minutes. They are coupling this information with data on the world’s air travel. Now knowledge of the disease can spread more quickly than the disease itself.
tweetable: What we’ve done with Zebra―we have curated news of infectious disease threats from official sources as well as crowd-sourcing information from a whole bunch of unofficial sources around the world―and we’re doing this every single day, virtually every fifteen minutes.
Physicians today are bombarded with information. What is Dr. Khan’s vision to help streamline this issue?
- Dr. Khan speaks to Clay Shirky’s theory―the real issue is filter failure.
- Filtering based on location and monitoring how the whole world moves through air travel.
- His vision is for people to get just enough information, so they know what affects them.
- Sharing bite-sized information that people can consume by filtering.
tweetable: Failing at something does not mean that one is a failure.
Why does Dr. Khan believe Canadians are risk-averse when it comes to innovation?
- By sharing his own first-hand cultural experiences in the United States, Dr. Khan explains the payoff we could have with greater risk.
- Why risk-taking is intertwined with innovation.
- With innovation, failure is possible and can be very uncomfortable. But helping people for the greater good is worth it and incredibly rewarding―you are more likely to regret the opportunities you don’t take.
- Dr. Khan reflects on the impacts he’s personally seen as a result of this risk.
tweetable: When it comes to innovation, I think risk-taking is kind of intertwined with innovation. It’s a necessary thing in order to do something that’s transformative.
What advice would Dr. Khan give to his younger self?
- Buckle your seatbelt!
- The path is very unpredictable but is also rewarding.
- The learning is adaptive. Be willing to accept uncertainty.
tweetable: You have to buckle your seatbelt―because the ride can get a little bumpy at times.
- Joule Innovation Grant Recipient Dr. Kamran Khan, founder of BlueDot, a video about his initiative.
- Dr. Kamran Khan: To fight global infectious diseases, he prescribes a dose of big data, a Public Policy Forum article about Dr. Khan.
- 2018 Governor General’s Innovation Award, to watch Dr. Khan’s speech at the award ceremony.
- How a Toronto company used big data to predict the spread of Zika, a Toronto Star article.
- Canadian health care lacks culture of innovation, an article from CMAJ News by Roger Collier.
- What scientific idea is ready for retirement?, a blog by Jay Rosen on Edge about information overload.
- Shirky: Problem is filter failure, not info overload, a CNET article about Clay Shirky’s theory.
Are you making waves in innovation or have a bold idea to share? We would love to hear your story. Connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to have your thoughts featured in a future podcast.
The opinions stated by podcast participants are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule. Joule does not endorse any views, product, service, association, company or industry mentioned in this podcast.
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