AbbVie’s Chris Boone on How He Leverages and Democratizes Data To Improve the Health for All Patients

Originally published at Chris Boone is AbbVie’s head of health economics & outcomes research group (HEOR). AbbVie ranked No. 15 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


In the “Magnified” series, AbbVie takes a closer look at the life experiences & career journeys that have shaped the company’s leaders. Meet self-proclaimed “data hippie” Chris Boone, an introvert who started off in IT and ended up on the big stage talking digital and diversity. Today, Chris leads AbbVie’s health economics & outcomes research (HEOR) group with a big goal: Democratize data and improve health for all.


Your background spans IT, hospitals, public health and now pharma. Tell us about your career journey and what drew you to health care.

I started my career as an information technology (IT) intern through INROADS, which is a national program focused on advancing diversity in corporate America. It was through this developmental experience that I was able to establish a professional foundation.

However, the experience also revealed to me that I wasn’t passionate about working in environments or industries that didn’t align with my professional and personal interests. That’s when I decided that health care administration would be my career path. Specifically, I realized I wanted to carve a path to being a CEO of a health system one day – a public health system focused on treating our nation’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.

After undergrad, I returned to my home in Dallas, Texas, to find a hospital/health system that would take on an enthusiastic early careerist with no relevant experience other than my IT and data systems internship experience. Someone took a chance on me, and I’ve worked in health ever since.


You lead the growing health economics & outcomes research (HEOR) team at AbbVie – beyond the acronym, what do you want people to understand about this group and what you do?

Simply, that HEOR is focused on generating evidence that helps us understand the performance of our therapies and interventions in a real-world context. The “real-world” in this particular context is what happens outside the boundaries of a randomized clinical trial. The patient-centric evidence we generate is an input into a broader story of the value of the therapy. People should also know that HEOR is highly interdisciplinary with formally-trained economists, epidemiologists, data scientists, clinicians and policy analysts.


You live by the 4 Ds. What are they and why are they important?

I’m usually talking about one or more of my 4 D’s, which are data, digital, diversity, and/or drugs (the legal kind).

Unlike the other 3 Ds, the diversity topic is a bit different. For me, it’s about health equity and diversity in clinical trials, which is a personal and professional passion for me. We have this unique opportunity as an industry to truly expand our trials and ensure that each are representative of the populations most afflicted by the disease we’re working to treat.

I’m proud of our company’s progress, including the 2-year clinical trial studying women with uterine fibroids. More than 80% of Black women will have uterine fibroids by age 50, and with a greater size and growth rate compared to white women. It’s critical to have the right level of representation in these studies and get the best data we can. It’s a responsibility to patients that we do not take lightly.


Let’s talk about a couple of the other D’s: digital and data. How has the rise of digital changed the experience for patients and your perspective on health care access?

I was fortunate to be early in my career when the digital revolution in hospitals and health systems began. We were working feverishly to design, build and implement electronic health record platforms so that we could treat patients more effectively and efficiently. It was incredibly strange to be out in the world routinely using computers then go into hospital environments and feel like you were in the stone age, as everything was literally written on paper.

Fortunately, the rapid adoption of these digital systems, along with the explosion of digital apps and tools, forever altered the patient experience. It also marked a shift from a previously paternalistic paradigm of health care decision-making where you simply listened to the doctor, to one where patients were empowered and could be active participants in their health and wellness journey.


Your Twitter handle is @DataHippie. What’s the back story?

My mindset around openness and data sharing led to that nickname. About 10 years ago I was involved with a nonprofit with a mission around open data, transparency, and democratizing data. I was having a passionate conversation with someone, and he said, “wow, you’re really pushing this whole data sharing thing. You’re like a hippie for data.” And it stuck. Now I’d say that more people know me as the data hippie versus Chris Boone, which I think is hilarious.


You’ve described yourself as an introvert. But you’ve not been shy to join the speaking circuit or teach a class at NYU. What do you get out of it?

People assume I’m an extrovert because I gravitate toward public speaking, but the reality is I’m an introvert. My introversion shouldn’t be confused with shyness, since I have no issues with speaking in front of groups. When it comes to teaching, it’s a personal passion so it comes pretty easily.

I find it rather energizing to engage with students on some of the most pressing issues facing our world today. They always seem to have a fresh perspective that hasn’t been tainted by a pre-existing way of doing things. They challenge you to think differently.


How would you describe your leadership style today?

I find it hard to do self-appraisals, but recently an interviewer said to me, “Stay hungry, stay foolish is a great description about you. How do you achieve that?”

It comes back to an overwhelming desire to always approach life with a growth mentality and view all situations as an opportunity to be a better version of ourselves. It’s a form of self-disruption. I believe that mentality extends into the things I’m most passionate about, including my career and how I can continue to influence our health care system through my work.

As such, I take a multi-faceted approach to leadership. This involves serving as a player-coach and also a visionary that sets the path forward for my team.