The healthcare industry has transformed over the years and is still in the transition phase. Today, it contributes around 18% of the total US GDP. The industry has induced compelling advancements in adopting digital transformation to improve patient care and reduce operational costs. It is making significant changes to make sure that the limited healthcare resources are directed toward patients with critical needs.
The pandemic, in particular, has introduced important changes in patient safety and preventative health has been prioritized. Given the pace at which the industry is evolving, the role of healthcare leaders has become more important than ever. They have to not only comply with the changes in the industry but also come up with new strategies and approaches to thrive in the increasing competition.
Expressing his views on the qualities of a good healthcare leader today, Ajit Munjuluru (Business Intelligence Manager at Johns Hopkins Medicine) says, “To me, the most important quality of a healthcare leader would be a ‘patient first’ approach. Any programs designed to improve clinical operational efficiency, safety, and reduction in healthcare costs would be successful with the ‘patient first’ approach.” Ajit Munjuluru is a prime example of a contemporary healthcare leader taking his company towards success with his astute leadership skills.
Passion for Problem-Solving
Ajit Munjuluru completed his Bachelor’s in Engineering in India and a Masters in business analytics at Lindner College of Business (University of Cincinnati). Ajit loved Math and Computing since his childhood, which propelled him to do his undergraduate in Engineering. He realized his passion for problem-solving and entrepreneurship during his graduation days, which motivated him to partner with his friend in developing his startup–a robotics and ethical hacking training program.
This experience made Ajit Munjuluru realize the power of data and anticipate the influence of machine learning in the future. He started his career in banking and finance, however, he quickly noticed the social influence healthcare analytics had on improving public health. Ajit observed several successful case studies in health informatics along with advancements in the health industry and EMR adoption. He fulfilled his passion for serving in healthcare through data-enabled decision-making when he was presented with an opportunity at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.
Setting the Standards of Excellence
Johns Hopkins Medicine is a healthcare system consisting of six academic and community hospitals that provide services to 2.8 million patients and around 337,000 emergency room visits every year. The organization holds an ambitious mission to improve the health of the community and the world by setting the standard of excellence in medical education, research, and clinical care. Fostering diversity and inclusion, Johns Hopkins Medicine educates medical students, scientists, health care professionals, and the public. Furthermore, it conducts biomedical research and provides patient-centered medicine to prevent, diagnose, and treat human illness. Hopkins Health System envisions pushing the boundaries of discovery, transforming healthcare, advancing medical education, and creating hope for humanity.
Nobel Prize Winner
Johns Hopkins Medicine provides services in Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Florida. It serves more than 931,000 patients every year across 50+ care locations. Being one of the oldest in the network, serving patients since 1889, it has consistently ranked among the top 5 hospitals in the United States. For twenty-one consecutive years from 1991 to 2020, it was ranked as the best hospital in the US by U.S News and World Report.
The Johns Hopkins Hospital is a 1091-bed, level-1 trauma and stroke center providing care for Orthopedic Surgery, Neurosurgery, Internal Medicine, and multiple pediatric centers. It is a research and teaching hospital that won a Nobel Prize in the discovery of restrictive enzymes making significant advancements in the genetic engineering industry. Over the years, it has made significant contributions to the research and development of the polio virus. “The rich history and consistently high quality of medical care and research have given Johns Hopkins an international reputation as a top hospital and a teaching facility,” states Ajit Munjuluru.
Staying Up to Date with the Business World
Ajit Munjuluru led a team of Senior Analysts, programmers, and a program architect along with mentoring data scientists. As an analytical leader, Ajit led and managed two main stream of data science solutions at Johns Hopkins Medicine. One of them is supporting data science needs to run the emergency medicine departments. Another one is leading Analytics initiatives to run the capacity management department at Hopkins.
Some of his key achievements include:
- The development of Statistical and BI applications to track and improve operational health of 5 Emergency Medicine Departments under the Johns Hopkins Health System.
- Development of Data Science models to Analyze, predict, and plan for operational and staffing needs at the capacity command center.
- Partnering with Clinical teams and contributing to reducing the COVID test times taking more than a day to 90% of the test results within 2 hours.
Moreover, Ajit Munjuluru participated in the enterprise data strategy and contributed to the adoption of new digital and AI tools at Johns Hopkins. He has been a core member in contributing to the digital advancement and operations of the capacity command center at Hopkins.
He has helped to build Analytical and Data Science Applications that have empowered and facilitated the administration team to plan, track, and coordinate the smooth transfer critical care needs During the first two waves of COVID, the Capacity Command Center at Hopkins managed to transfer 659 patients with COVID-19 to and from hospitals in the Johns Hopkins Health System and 877 COVID-19 patients internally.
Talking about the challenges during COVID, Ajit Munjuluru says, “COVID brought a challenge to plan for negative pressure rooms, flex staff nurses to plan for patient surges, and block beds and ICU rooms specific to COVID patients. There were lost opportunities for Hospitals to plan and perform surgeries as the COVID surges demanded extra precautions and cancellations.”
Compassionate towards Patient Care
Ajit Munjuluru has some distinct qualities that distinguish him from other leaders in the industry. Some of them are creative thinking, compassion for patient care, and experience in solving problems in different industries. He is capable of zooming out and looking at healthcare problems from different lenses. This approach granted him fresh thoughts to solve operational problems.
For example, there was a challenge for nurses to track patient feedback and act on improving the safety protocols for infection prevention. He proposed a unique NLP-based data capture and visualization to aid nursing. This solution provided scalable visual tools and word clouds for the nurses to identify the top reasons and further develop programs to improve the safety protocols. Ajit developed such unique techniques based on the learnings he had during his stint as a Statistician dealing with Text Screening for US Sanctions methodology at CitiBank.
Encouraging Team Members to find Optimal Solutions
As an analytical leader, Ajit Munjuluru focuses on identifying the strengths and interests of his team members. He finds innovative projects that closely align with the interests of his team members and pushes them to their creative limits in identifying solutions. ‘He believes in out of the box thinking and encourages the team to come up with innovative and optimize using enterprise tools to solve complex healthcare operational problems’
Strategic Adoption of New Technologies
From implementing Electronic Media Records (EMRs) to the advent of chatbots and virtual assistants, healthcare has come a long way with the adoption of technology. The complex structure of healthcare in the US warrants exponential costs involving a lot of stress on frontline staff to provide effective care to the patients.
As a healthcare leader, ‘Ajit Munjuluru proposed strategic adoption of new technologies to improve the performance and work balance of clinical staff’ COVID has exposed the shortcomings of the industry in addition to the substantial cost of hiring travel nurses and coordinators. He recommends a wide variety of tools that focus on improving operational efficiency for the hospital administration, reducing coding errors, and assisting physicians to improve preventative care and outcomes.
Having An Open-Minded Approach
To stay abreast with the latest trends and developments in the industry, Ajit Munjuluru participates in business and technical conferences outside of work. Voluntarily, he acts as a subject matter judge at various technology-based events and stays updated with the business world. Ajit was among the top industry professionals in the world selected as a Judge for International Business Awards by STEVIE Awards, 2022. He constantly enrolls and learns new courses in AI and Digital advancements from various MOOCs such as Datacamp, Udemy, and Analytics Vidhya. Recently, he learned a lot about the impact of the ‘AI & ChatGPT for executives,’ a course by Kirill Eremenko at Udemy.
Ajit believes that a successful leader should have an open mind to identify and adopt the best solution. Sometimes, bottlenecks in healthcare operations have a strong pattern in a different industry. For example, a successful operational solution to improve worker performance in manufacturing could provide valuable insights to improving nursing efficiency for patient flow in the hospital. A visionary leader should be able to invest in innovation and have a long-term vision when adopting new methodologies.
Finding the Best Way to identify the Opportunities
During the early days in healthcare, Ajit Munjuluru faced challenges in identifying the most impactful solutions for hospitals. He found that the best way to identify opportunities is by shadowing frontline staff in their day-to-day work life. With this approach, he identified opportunities for improvements, eliminated processes that looked redundant, and designed data science solutions that would best serve the front-line staff and improve patient experience.
Moreover, he suggests having routine checks with Hospital administration to see if solutions are helping initiatives such as ‘reducing the length of stay’, ‘published research for new operational improvements’, ‘quality and safety of the patients’, and ‘improving staffing needs.’ He believes that these initiatives will help aspiring healthcare leaders stay focused and translate to a successful ROI in healthcare.