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Dr. Jijo James: 5 Things We Must Do To Improve the US Healthcare System

Ensuring Continued Investment in Healthcare: Efficiently managed expenditures and costs are investments with health and economic benefits. Strategic investments in the medical innovation ecosystem and regulatory frameworks can help increase patient access, bring in new financial resources and strengthen the overall sustainability of a country’s health care system. It can also drive new innovations for […]

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Ensuring Continued Investment in Healthcare: Efficiently managed expenditures and costs are investments with health and economic benefits. Strategic investments in the medical innovation ecosystem and regulatory frameworks can help increase patient access, bring in new financial resources and strengthen the overall sustainability of a country’s health care system. It can also drive new innovations for patients who may be waiting for the treatments, cures and procedures of the future

Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Jijo James MD, Chief Medical Officer, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies.

Jijo is the Chief Medical Officer for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing patient monitoring and safety surveillance practices. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Medical Device Innovation Consortium (MDIC) to advance medical device regulatory science and bring innovative, safe and effective life-changing devices to those who need it most. Jijo began his medical career working as a primary care physician in both urban and rural community settings. Having received his medical degree from St. John’s Medical College in India, he later earned a Master of Public Health degree in Population and Family Studies from the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, NY.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thanks for having me! As a physician trained in India I certainly did not set out to work in the industry. However fresh out of med school, working in a rural setting, I soon realized that there was a bigger opportunity to drive greater societal impact by transitioning from individual-based care to population-based health. This quest brought me to the U.S. to pursue my MPH, followed by a roller coaster ride of almost a decade in healthcare consulting driving innovations in healthcare delivery, and then life sciences, finally culminating in my current role in medical devices. What has not changed though has been my central focus on the “patient” and my passion for driving solutions for patient-benefit.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, we use our breadth, scale and experience to reimagine the way healthcare is delivered to help people live longer, healthier lives. What really makes us different is Our Credo — which spells out the values that guide our decision-making. Our Credo challenges us to put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first, and I have seen firsthand that these values are part of everything we do as a company. This makes me really proud to work here and definitely sets us apart as a company.

In fact, it’s this idea of putting the patients and healthcare professionals we serve first that led us to launch My Health Can’t Wait, an educational effort and resource hub designed to help patients get the information they need to pursue care with confidence. We found that in the current environment, more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed say they or someone in their household delayed or canceled healthcare services due to COVID-19.1 Experts believe this could negatively impact patients’ health in the long-term,2 so it’s important that patients talk to their healthcare professionals about the importance of getting the care they need when they need it. Supporting those we serve is our top priority, and the resources available at myhealthcantwait.com provide patients and healthcare providers with tools to help them engage in meaningful conversations about prioritizing needed care, both during this pandemic and in the future.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

At Johnson & Johnson, and on my team within The Office of the Chief Medical Officer, every action that we undertake is done through the lens of the people who use our products every day. My advice to other healthcare leaders is to ‘always keep the focus — your focus and your team’s focus — on the people who will use the products and services you develop’. Their health, safety and well-being should be your north star.

Throughout our work to develop medical devices — we come back to the scientific fundamentals of safety and make sure the team is focused on them to keep people as safe as possible. We make decisions informed by data and science; we put clear safety protocols in place at every stage; and we follow an ethics and value-based approach to everything we do.

You are a “healthcare insider.” If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall U.S. healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

I believe our healthcare system has significant strengths. Thanks to an open and competitive marketplace, it offers an array of treatment options and generates groundbreaking discoveries that are typically available in the United States before anywhere else in the world.

That being said, there is clearly room for improvement and there are many things that have the opportunity to make the system better for patients and healthcare providers — which should be our main focus.

Five things I believe we should focus on are:

Ensuring Continued Investment in Healthcare: Efficiently managed expenditures and costs are investments with health and economic benefits. Strategic investments in the medical innovation ecosystem and regulatory frameworks can help increase patient access, bring in new financial resources and strengthen the overall sustainability of a country’s health care system. It can also drive new innovations for patients who may be waiting for the treatments, cures and procedures of the future.

Investing in the development and continued support of front-line health workers (FLHWs): Well-functioning health systems must be anchored in community and primary care, prioritizing the pursuit of health, not just the detection and treatment of disease. FLHWs, including nurses, midwives, and community health workers (CHWs), play a critical role in helping communities manage their health and creating a bridge to the formal health system. Yet the world is facing a critical health worker shortage and a crisis in the quality of care.

Digital Transformation: Digital technologies can make healthcare systems more efficient and effective by improving access and enhancing productivity to help decrease costs and provide better quality care. They can also help support and sustain healthcare workers in delivering quality care.

Moving towards value-based healthcare (VBHC): Maximizing the quality of care and health outcomes relative to expenditures is critical to ensuring healthcare system financial resources are used efficiently and effectively, thus improving financial sustainability and ultimately helping healthcare be more affordable for patients. Linking healthcare quality and outcomes with procurement and payment decisions improves the alignment of VBHC goals between payers and providers of care.

Ensuring Efficiencies in Healthcare Systems: Building effective infrastructure and reducing waste is foundational to sustainable healthcare systems. Waste reduction may be operational, such as services and processes that are harmful or do not deliver benefits​, or financial, such as excess costs. Savings gained here may be reinvested into infrastructure development or other items to offset costs for patients and improve access to care.

Improvements to the healthcare system will require a multifaceted approach in order to create a better system that provides sustainable access, value-creating innovation, unparalleled safety and quality, responsible leadership and governance, and ultimately, a healthier society.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

Everyone’s definition of excellent is going to be different, but if we put ourselves in the patient’s shoes, I think they would tell you their doctor is excellent because of the personal connection they have together. When I was still practicing, that was something I always tried to focus on — making a personal connection with my patients so they knew I cared about them in addition to the care I was providing to them.

This personal connection is incredibly important for all sorts of reasons and can have a serious impact on whether patients even go to the doctor. In another survey we conducted, we also found that patients who weren’t in touch with their doctor were 40% more likely to abandon their healthcare plans, whereas those who received a call from their doctor were 20 percent more likely to schedule a surgery they had previously been thinking about.3

So, when you think of what makes an excellent doctor, sure, it requires all of the skills and knowledge and schooling to make you great, but to be excellent means making the time to connect on a more personal level.

We know this at Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, which is why My Health Can’t Wait provides different resources for patients and healthcare professionals to stay connected as they discuss the best ways to prioritize patient health.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand” — Randy Pausch.

It’s as much, if not more about the journey, as the destination. Or as we say at Johnson & Johnson, it’s not just the “what,” it’s also the “how” — and more often than not, it’s the how we show up, the leadership we exhibit, the longer path we take to bring people along that matters most. Which explains our focus on helping provide patients with relevant information to make informed choices.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! As I mentioned, I’m proud to be part of the My Health Can’t Wait campaign, which encourages patients to prioritize their health and get the information they need to pursue care with confidence. We know from the survey I mentioned that people have delayed needed care due to the pandemic, and we want to help them talk with their doctors about when and how to prioritize needed care.

With this in mind, we compiled information from reputable sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to create an online hub at www.MyHealthCantWait.com to help patients feel more comfortable pursuing their healthcare needs. It provides important resources for patients and caregivers, including:

A Patient/Caregiver Checklist and Discussion Guide to help people have conversations with their healthcare professionals

Safety FAQs detailing the safety measures hospitals and surgery centers are recommended to take to help protect patients from COVID-19

Telehealth 101 Resources to help patients understand the use of telehealth for routine and pre-/post-op care, as nearly three-quarters of the survey participants (73%) say they would be comfortable using telehealth services as a way of managing their healthcare1

Patient Stories, and more

We hope people find these materials to be useful as they talk with their healthcare professionals about what’s right for them. I encourage anyone, whether you’re a patient or a healthcare professional, to visit www.MyHealthCantWait.com to learn more.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

I think my favorite “life lesson quote” gave that away — The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Personally, it is a humbling reminder of what ultimately matters in life and professionally for us in industry of the work that still remains ahead of us — the patients are waiting.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like us to imagine a world where we do not merely treat diseases — we prevent, intercept and cure. I envision a future where many of the diseases that have created the greatest burden today have been rendered inconsequential — a world where we spend much more of our time stewarding health rather than treating illness. This will take innovation not just in medicine but in mindsets, not just in science but in systems, not just in technology but in our total approach to health care.

We can begin with prevention and pushing the boundaries of keeping people from getting sick by focusing on wellness far before disease sets in. Then, we can intercept disease and strike at its earliest stages, successfully preempting it with innovative approaches. Should some disease still break through despite our best efforts in this future world, we transition to our third pillar — cure. This includes providing access to medical and surgical cures, and the next wave of innovation holds special potential to do this.

As Chief Medical Officer for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, my vision includes ensuring the safety of the products coming to market in the future — an innovation that is met with the rigor of science and data to keep people everywhere as safe as possible.

Together we can create a bright future where every person can live a life free from the worries of illness — where their concern is not simply preventing disease but living a full life.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter @_jijojames or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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