Emerging Health Leaders: Evie Powell, Ph.D., of Proprio

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MHE Publication, MHE October 2021, Volume 3, Issue 10

Evie Powell is one of 13 up-and-coming health leaders featured in this annual Managed Healthcare Executive series.

Evie Powell, Ph.D., virtual reality architect at Proprio, a med-tech company in Seattle

I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. I earned an M.Sc./B.S. in computer science and a Ph.D. in information technology, all from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

I am a games researcher and developer specializing in immersive interactions and prototype design. I integrate game design and UX (user experience) design to create meaningful experiences that help people learn, play, teach and work differently. In 2014, I founded Verge of Brilliance, an independent experimental games studio in Seattle, and I was a program manager at Microsoft on natural user interfaces and the Kinect technology at Xbox. At Proprio, I evaluate how we can create technology that supports surgeons in the operating room, and I am designing a suite of tools to help empower them to perform optimally.

Leadership highlights include leading external teams that won several hackathon awards, including Seattle VR 2018 Hackathon’s Best in Audio and 2016’s Best Technical Achievement.

I also co-led a successful Mobile Future Forward demonstration in which my team showed the possibilities of blending technology and the operating room through remote multiuser collaborative surgery by connecting a remote surgeon to an in-person practicing surgeon.

Who has had the greatest influence on your life?

Everybody needs a champion who believes in you, challenges you and encourages you to pursue your goals. For me, that is Tiffany Barnes, Ph.D., my Ph.D. adviser and a professor at North Carolina State University.

Why did you pursue a career in healthcare?

I’ve always been interested in technology and its impact on communities. When I was introduced to Proprio, I recalled reading the book “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card and was excited about the possibilities of blending immersive technology with real-world scenarios. Although the story features a more dystopian view of technology and society, I could envision how intentionally designed technology could fundamentally change how important tasks are presented in a way to promote focus and performance. For example, by creating calm design through intentional data management and distillation, we can reduce anxiety, minimize overstimulating environments (like an operating room) and distill complex tasks for improved focus, well-being and results.

Which career accomplishment has given you the greatest satisfaction?

Proprio has given me the greatest satisfaction in my career so far. I’ve been a lead, hiring manager, researcher, designer and prototype. Proprio has a team of engineers who empower surgeons to think differently about how they can improve the medical industry and who are passionate about making a positive impact on our community.

What has your organization’s role been in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines?

We have established a remote, safe working environment. The company provides transparency regarding vaccination rates and social distancing.

What would be the best way to reduce healthcare inequities in the U.S.?

To reduce inequities in healthcare, we must recognize and reduce inequities in technological development. The concept of universal design is particularly important, as we need to design systems by a group that represents the people they are built for in order to ensure that quality of care is high for all patients and quality of experience is high for all surgeons.

Name a book or article that everyone in healthcare should read.

“Homo Ludens” by Johan Huizinga is a book that focuses on the study of play in everything from law to language to other key aspects of culture. This book influenced a lot of the ways that I view how technology can blend into core aspects of our lives and how we can use early technology to assess which technologies and concepts will successfully permeate day-to-day life in the future.