We recently reached out to Olga Elizarova MPH’15 to catch up with her since she graduated from the School of Public Health two years ago. Olga is a person of many talents; she is both a dentist and a public health professional. She works as a Senior Behavior Change Analyst at Mad*Pow. Mad*Pow is a human centered design agency whose core service offerings include experience strategy and service design, interaction and visual design, behavior change design, research and validation, application development, front-end development, and design training and workshops. The behavior change team at Mad*Pow, which Olga is a part of, is leveraging evidence-based behavior change methodology to create  technology-assisted interventions, products, and services in healthcare.

How does technology allow you to solve healthcare issues in a way that wasn’t possible before?

As long as we use technology as an enabler, rather than as a destination, there are many issues we can address. Technology allows us to design solutions that connect the siloed elements of the health system. It helps us to collect, analyze, and deliver information about prevention, diagnosis, or treatment more efficiently to those who need it most. It can also help us to learn more about patients’ behaviors and context, which can help us deliver more personalized and effective interventions. In many situations, health context and behaviors matter more to health, than health care itself. Once the patient leaves the doctor’s office they are on their own to make healthy choices. For instance, adhering to their medication schedule or eating healthy. Smart technology integrates seamlessly into patients’ lives and allows doctors to be better doctors, and patients to be better patients.

What are the major barriers you face when attempting to solve healthcare issues within your role?

Designers don’t view barriers as problems. Barriers for designers are the opportunities that could be addressed through solutions we design. Three things that certainly do not help are time, the real world evaluation environment, and regulation in health tech. Designing an intervention takes time, doing evaluation and subsequent iterations takes time as well, and in order to see the change in the health outcomes that we are addressing, we need time again. When we design interventions in academia, the controlled environment helps us to evaluate the impact. When we design an intervention in the real world and people are not incentivized to follow up with us, we get a different quality of data, and are not always aware of the mediating variables that might have contributed to the outcomes. As for regulation in health tech, it is very unbalanced. I was surprised to learn how mobile app development can be under-regulated and over-regulated at the same time. On the one hand, we see thousands of apps on the AppStore and GooglePlay that claim some health benefit but were developed without any theories or evidence behind them. On the other hand, when a group of brilliant medical professionals alongside giant hospitals and other entities want to use technology to enable communication with patients
through sophisticated remote patient monitoring, they have to go through all the hurdles of regulatory review and years of approval.

How did Brown prepare you to tackle contemporary issues in public health?

I am extremely grateful to the Brown University School of Public Health for all the knowledge they gave me and for always supporting me on my journey. To be fair, every single class I had as part of the MPH program provided a unique experience and taught me something that I have applied at least once in my current job. My elective classes—particularly Designing and Evaluating Public Health Interventions, Principles of Health Behavior and Health Promotion, the US Healthcare System, and Measurement Issues in Healthcare—helped prepare me for my current position most. I still log into canvas to review some of the materials that professors taught us! I am extremely grateful to Professors Gjelsvik and Linkletter for teaching me all the principles and methods of Biostatistics that I also apply often in my job. With the amount of health data that we have in our field and data that we receive from clients, we need to have a way to digest this information and identify the insights that we can use in the intervention design.

The motto of School of Public Health “Learn by Doing” sums it all up. I was lucky to have the support of Joann Barao and Diane Schlacter from the very beginning until the day of my graduation. They supported me when I wanted to take an internship at Mad*Pow and helped me to develop as a public health professional in the design industry.