Dec. 11 2019

Alumnus Brings a Public Health Mindset to Medical Devices

As Chief Medical Officer for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies and a member of the board of the Medical Device Innovation Consortium, Jijo James, MPH '01, has a parallel view for the world of healthcare.

“As a society, we need to focus on educating patients,” he says, “in terms of what their choices are, what’s available, the difference between one device and another.” In his ideal world, a person undergoing surgery such as a hip or knee replacement would be just as well educated as if they were buying a car. And that education doesn’t end when anesthesia begins, says James, who oversees patient monitoring and safety surveillance practices related to J&J medical devices.

“We have to explore what can we do to reduce risk to help drive the best outcomes, pre-op to post-op,” he says. “End-to-end care relies on the fundamentals of public health, looking at society as a whole, and not just the narrow focus on a device or innovation. By embracing a shared culture and commitment to safety that starts before the patient enters the operating roomas well as after they’ve leftwe move closer to developing a healthcare system where industry and patients alike could learn from and share their unique experiences.”

James didn’t set out to transform the medical devices mindset. He was a newly-minted physician with training in both medicine and surgery when he landed his first post at a rural clinic in his native India. With a regional doctor-patient ratio of 1 to 50,000, no operating room, and only the most basic tools of the trade at his disposal, it didn’t take long for James to decide there had to be a different way to promote well-being. “It was a revealing moment,” he recalls, “when I discovered an interest in population-based health.”

James credits serendipity and passion for his trajectory from Bangalore (now Bengaluru) to New Brunswick, NJ. In 1998, his wife, also a physician, decided to train in physical medicine and rehabilitation in the United States. James seized the opportunity to earn a master’s in public health. “There was a lot of waste in the way public health programs were run,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if someone with a healthcare background were involved in designing these programs?’ I wanted to ensure a patient- and population-based focus, in addition to a business and strategic focus on healthcare.”

When his wife landed a residency at Montefiore Hospital and then specialized in spinal cord injury medicine at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, James chose Columbia Mailman, where he could pursue his interest in maternal and infant health and work full-time for a management consultancy based in Tarrytown, NY. The young couple didn’t see much of each other—these were the days before duty-hour restrictions limited how much time trainees were required to spend in the hospital—but they were in the same country and pursuing their dreams.

Twenty years later, James says the values that informed his coursework at Columbia Mailman still resonate. “My primary responsibility within the Johnson & Johnson Office of the Chief Medical Officer is to create a world where patients, their caregivers, and those who use our products are free from avoidable harm,” he says, “looking from the perspective of the end-user - it’s trying to drive decisions based on science and data, ethics, and values. That’s the core of what I learned: keeping these values in perspective as you make decisions and empowering patients throughout their experience as well as putting their experiences at the center of every decision we make.”