Sanjula Jain, Ph.D., chief research officer at Trilliant Health, combining industry expertise, market research and predictive analytics to form evidence-based strategy for healthcare, is one of the 12 up-and-coming leaders in healthcare included in the annual Managed Healthcare Executive feature.
We are thrilled to present this year’s list of 12 emerging leaders in healthcare. Managed Healthcare Executive editors picked the emerging leaders from a list of almost 40 nominees. They come from the full gamut of U.S. healthcare, including companies harnessing the ever-increasing amount of healthcare data, community health worker organizations addressing social determinants of health, and enterprises devoted to improving Medicaid program access and quality. These leaders are tackling the challenges of the 21st century with creativity, dedication and insight. They give us confidence in the future of healthcare.
I was raised in Toronto and Tampa, Florida, where my exposure to both the Canadian and American healthcare systems piqued my interest in care delivery. I hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rice University and a doctorate degree in health services research and health policy, with a concentration in economics, from Emory University.
As a health economist, I leverage data-driven insights to shape organization and market-specific strategies, as well as national health policy. I collaborate with C-suite and senior executives across the $4.3 trillion healthcare economy, which includes Fortune 500 life sciences companies, leading health systems, digital health providers and health plans. Currently, I serve as the chief research officer at Trilliant Health and am on the faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. My research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and JAMA, on CNN and elsewhere.
Career turning point: A turning point occurred when a past direct supervisor imposed their own professional experiences and biases on my career trajectory, insisting that I couldn’t advance to a more senior position because “Ph.D.’s cannot be good executives.” Despite their explicit discouragement and simultaneous acknowledgement of my meaningful contributions to the financial growth of the organization, I chose to move on, not letting their views dictate my ambitions. That decision ultimately led me to even more senior roles than what that past supervisor had discussed, reminding me that one person’s opinion, regardless of their title or seniority, does not define one’s potential.
Biggest challenge of the job: My greatest challenge is persuading executives to reevaluate their long-held beliefs and assumptions about the healthcare industry, which often lack sufficient data validation. With the health economy generating more data than any other sector, the industry has become prone to analyzing data in silos and accepting “directionally correct” information. Therefore, my efforts are focused on guiding executives to overcome the inclination to extrapolate discrete data points to the entire population during the process of gathering and interpreting insights underlying their strategies.
Long-lasting COVID-19 effect: From a research perspective, the data reveal that the pandemic significantly amplified or accelerated many macrotrends shaping the healthcare economy. As I reflect on these various trends, the one that stands out with the most enduring impact is the fact that the behavioral health (including mental health) status of Americans — from elementary school students to Medicare beneficiaries — has declined since thethe pandemic. The likely downstream clinical, financial and societal impacts of the current U.S. behavioral health crisis are concerning.
What I would change about U.S. healthcare: I would advocate for eliminating the information asymmetry that exists among stakeholders, whether it pertains to patients and providers, providers and payers, or other parties involved. Initiatives such as health plan price transparency and reducing reliance on intermediaries such as third-party administrators and pharmacy benefit managers could be game changers in this regard.
Book everyone in healthcare should read: I recommend “The New Health Economy: Ground Rules for Leaders,” a contemporary text that I had the privilege of co-authoring. The book applies Winston Churchill’s concept of “The farther back you look, the farther ahead you can see” to analyze the evolution of the healthcare industry from various vantage points.
Putting aside my personal bias, I consider Avedis Donabedian’s article, “Evaluating the Quality of Medical Care,” published in 1966, to be essential reading for all healthcare professionals. Donabedian’s conceptual framework remains remarkably relevant today and can be applied beyond the scope of quality assessment.
Guilty pleasure: Although I have an affinity for data-driven interpretations, I still enjoy going down the rabbit hole of reading horoscope predictions and the personality descriptions of zodiac signs.