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Romilla Batra, M.D., MBA, chief medical officer of SCAN Health and a professor of medicine at University of California, Irvine, says she was drawn to working for SCAN because “its mission resonated so strongly with me."
Climbing the Career Ladder: First of 10 profiles of healthcare executives and their careers.
When Romilla Batra, M.D., MBA, came to the United States from her native India to continue her medical training, she was “beyond amazed,” she recalls.
After working in an emergency room treating pediatric patients in inner-city Delhi, where “simple stuff could make a big difference; dehydration could kill,” Batra came to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), at age 26, to train in internal medicine. There she had access to equipment and technology that are taken for granted in the United States, such as MRIs. In India, “an MRI was like doing a transplant. It was really so rare.” In India she relied on her “hands, ears and eyes” and would assume the role of doctor, surgeon and nurse, all in the span of a single night. At UCLA, Batra says, she learned about treating patients with complex medical needs: “In a way I felt like I knew a lot. In a way I felt like I knew nothing.”
After UCLA, Batra headed to Indiana University School of Medicine, where she served as medical director, and then returned to California to become medical director at University of California, Irvine (UCI). Along the way she got her MBA and she continues to teach at UCI’s medical and business schools.
Batra also learned to work with a broad range of patients with diverse backgrounds, cultures and languages, such as African Americans, Hispanics and Vietnamese. “The dynamics are very different,” says Batra. Batra began to focus on population-based approaches to healthcare and how to scale programs to make them more effective for a wider range of patients.
In 2011 Batra, who is board certified in internal medicine, became vice president and medical director at SCAN Health Plan, a not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plan in Southern California, and held several positions before becoming chief medical officer.
When she joined SCAN, her patients were sad to see her leave full-time clinical practice. Some gently joked that “I went to the dark side of the world,” Batra says.But she was drawn to the payer because “its mission resonated so strongly with me,” she says.
With the move she could take a population health approach to reach SCAN, which now has 220,000 members in
11 counties in California.
She says she works to teach medical and business students “how to think outside the box to improve the experience of the people we serve and how do we do it in a sustained manner.”
American healthcare, she believes, needs to emulate retailers such as Costco and Amazon, which deliver effective, efficient service.
In healthcare, “service is downgraded,” Batra says. Payers and providers need to learn to think about “what does the consumer want” and consider “how do we engage with them, so they are more likely to follow what we want them to follow” when it comes to improving their health. The focus should be on “how do we change their behavior, change their lifestyle,” she says.
At SCAN, Batra says she is “surrounded by an amazing group of people. When you have passion and passion is your job, it just becomes so much fun.”