Innovating for San Francisco’s Health Department
Med student Andrey Ostrovsky: entrepreneur and researcher
Since 2006, Andrey Ostrovsky has started a thriving business, developed a new way to measure infants’ brain volume as a clinical research fellow at the Doris Duke Foundation, volunteered as a Russian language interpreter, interned at the World Health Organization in Geneva, and served on the Massachusetts Medical Society’s maternal and perinatal welfare committee and a Boston Medical Center IT strategic planning task force. The College of Arts & Sciences grad has also been a medical student at the BU School of Medicine.
He was just getting warmed up. Last fall, working as a policy analyst intern, Ostrovsky (CAS’06, MED’10) built the first Web-based evaluation system for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. In January, the new measurement system, called a health-care report card, was approved and codified under San Francisco law. When the Web site, designed by Ostrovsky, goes up in the fall, it will not only detail the status of all programs and institutions involved in health care and disease prevention, but will offer one-stop shopping for collaborations among San Francisco’s public and private agencies, hospitals, nonprofit foundations, researchers, lawmakers, and consumers. Ostrovsky hopes the site will offer an efficient, streamlined alternative to hours of surfing cluttered public sites or having to “know somebody who knows somebody” to get a partnership off the ground.
At 25, the Ukrainian-born Ostrovsky is an achiever in overdrive. He attributes his compassion to his late grandmother and his work ethic to his father, the founder of a successful computer network company. But it’s the most recent addition to Ostrovsky’s résumé that best combines these virtues and has earned him the respect of a prominent group of old hands in the public health field.
Now that the report card project is done, Ostrovsky could take a break and rest on his laurels, but anyone who knows him know that that’s unlikely. “I’m writing up the project to try to have it published,” he says.
Ostrovsky likes his challenges outsized. With a consuming interest in what he calls “big-picture health,” he put out feelers last March to see how he could become involved in health-care policy in San Francisco, where he’d be working as a Duke Foundation fellow. His extracurricular pursuits had already drawn the attention of some well-placed acquaintances, among them Peter Belinson, health commissioner of the Ostrovsky family’s hometown of Baltimore. Belinson put Ostrovsky in touch with San Francisco health commissioner Mitchell Katz, a West Coast leader in health-care access. Ostrovsky sent along some of his ideas and got a response from Anne Kronenberg, a public health official who was the late Harvey Milk’s campaign manager. Ostrovsky had seen the movie Milk, with Sean Penn and Alison Pill playing Cronenberg, and was awestruck by her celebrity. Colleagues now, “she’s been my supervisor and mentor through this whole process,” says Ostrovsky.
“Andrey is very personable,” says Cronenberg. “That combined with his precocious nature and intellect make him a wonderful addition to our department.”
When Ostrovsky first approached officials at the San Francisco health department, there was no tool for evaluating their system and no one vehicle whereby public and private health-care groups could consult, collaborate, and pool resources. “Mitch Katz said he’d had the idea of creating a health report card for the city, but he didn’t know how to do it,” Ostrovsky recalls. “That was it, a report card — no details.”
Ostrovsky began researching large urban health departments, focusing on New York City, and also interviewed San Francisco health providers and administrators about what could be improved. “I got a good skeleton of what I should be doing and came up with a mission statement,” he says. “I found that the next step would be finding a novel way to blend the research and evaluation components of public health, doing needs assessment, and creating a collaboration between all departments — the public health community, the private sector, literally everyone who has an influence on health — and create synergy between them.”
At this early stage Ostrovsky often consulted a business advisor: his father. “We talk every other day,” says Ostrovsky. “Any time I have a strategic question I go to him.” His father has a hand in Andrey’s premed consulting company, Future MD, which offers classroom instruction and one-on-one tutoring. “I’m looking to sell the company. I like bringing things to market,” says Ostrovsky, who cut his business teeth selling bootleg CDs at his Baltimore middle school.
In a way, Ostrovsky’s task required him to bring the health report card to market, too. There were meetings, lots of them, presided over by Ostrovsky, but as the report card Web site edged toward completion, he passed the reins over to the people who’d be reaping the benefits. They included community organizations, nonprofits, research departments at teaching hospitals, physicians, public health officers, and dentists — anyone providing any piece of health care, whether involving treatment, prevention, or quality of life. Ostrovsky envisioned a Craigslist-style feature that would allow people in different fields to search posts for potential collaborations among, for example, a medical research department, a nonprofit that fights Parkinson’s disease, and a community group for Parkinson’s patients.
“Suppose a UCSF professor wants to evaluate community health programs focusing on fighting and preventing cancer,” he says. “Everyone knows that the public health department coordinates a lot of cancer-related programs, but most people don’t know what’s out there. So the researcher goes to the site, clicks on “cancer” and is directed to the collaboration center Web page.” There’s a calendar of events, links to educational resources and to statistics, and a real-time discussion forum.
As the Web site matures, it will have links to hospital evaluations, both internal and external. “It’s a fine line to walk, but we have legal backing,” says Ostrovsky, “and the national and local laws say you must report and be evaluated.”
Three of his mentors — “Anne, Mitch, and my Dad” — advised him to know his endgame. Still, he says, “I’d like to stay involved in a consultation capacity.”
Susan Seligson can be reached at email@example.com Comments