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Meet The Georgia Tech Ph.D. Student Using Fitbit To Improve Postpartum Care

by Maija Ehlinger

It was the Downtown Atlanta skyline that first captured Sherilyn Francis’ heart. 

“I happened to come to Atlanta one day on a whim and when I saw the cityscape driving through downtown…it was absolutely beautiful and said I have to move here,” she told Hypepotamus.

Move she did, and now Francis, current Ph.D. student in the Human-Centered Computing program at Georgia Tech, is working at the intersection of technology and public health to improve maternal health equity across the state. 

Francis is a research assistant on Preventing Maternal Mortality Using Mobile Technology (PM3), which is housed in the Georgia Tech Wellness Technology Lab. The Lab brings together an impressive group of scientists and healthcare researchers from Emory, Morehouse, and Georgia Tech, all of whom are dedicated to advancing women’s health equity. 

She jumped right into work with PM3 and in her first semester, Francis is one of six researchers from across the country to earn a Fitbit Health Equity Research Award. This will provide devices and other tracking tools for the team’s health equity programs that are working to ensure new mothers have the social support and community resources needed during the critical few weeks after delivery.



The researchers behind PM3 are dedicated to addressing health concerns for Black women in the postpartum period, which the team says is “the most critical yet most neglected phase for preventing suboptimal or fatal maternal health outcomes.” 

Upwards of half of maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period because many women lack physical and emotional care during this time.

“The standard of care when you leave a hospital is typically a binder full of information,” principal investigator Dr. Andrea Parker told Hypepotamus. “You’re likely not going to look at it when you have a newborn.”

The PM3 app aims to make that information more accessible, particularly to rural African American women in the postpartum period. Francis said this group is often “left out of the equation” and out of most material health research.

The Fitbit project will have multiple phases, and ultimately 150 women will test the PM3 app, Fitbit Sense smartwatch, and Fitbit Aria Air scale. The goal, Francis said, is to help women complete their scheduled postpartum healthcare visits and ultimately find the best way to collect and visualize key health data points. 

That includes tracking physical health metrics like sleep, heart rate variability, and activity levels, along with other metrics like stress levels and goal tracking.

“We’re really interested in what the end-user needs,” Francis added. “How do they want this technology to function? What data collection or what data visualization requirements are of value to them?” 

Working on rural maternal health concerns is an extension of Francis’ passion for health equity, something she learned after moving to Atlanta. 

After teaching biology in the Atlanta Public School system, Francis went on to earn her MPH and MSBT in Bioinformatics from the Morehouse School of Medicine before starting her Ph.D. studies at Georgia Tech. 

My time at Morehouse was pivotal because that is where I gained my health equity knowledge, and learned to ask critical questions about data collection and interventions in order to champion the cause and the needs of marginalized and low resource communities.”

For Francis, PM3 and the Georgia Tech Wellness Technology Lab is an “Atlanta success story” that showcases the strong connection between the city’s tech and public health communities. “The ability to have all of these experiences in one city, in less than a five-mile radius of one another, is exceptional and extraordinary,” she added.



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