Mayil Dharmarajan is leveraging technology to enable the best care, research, and innovation possible in healthcare. As the head of analytics and data and senior director of enterprise data management at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), he is tasked with technologically unifying an academic medical system with a sterling reputation, not just for its continual medical breakthroughs, but in applying those breakthroughs quickly for the betterment of its patient population.
“Our aim is to expedite and translate the innovation happening on our research and medical school side to our patients,” Dharmarajan explains. “All of the clinical trials and advanced treatment methods need to be taken to our patients in the shortest and most responsible way possible.”
Dharmarajan is at the forefront of building out a data and analytics infrastructure that can be a centralized and combined platform throughout the entire academic and medical system. That platform will ultimately be one source of truth the entire organization can unify around to communicate and move ideas forward.
A unified solution will also create much more streamlined systems for working through federal and state-mandated regulatory, compliance, and internal data governance processes.
“Unifying our data means we avoid islands of data, tools, and technology,” Dharmarajan explains. “Creating a centralized center for data allows us the opportunity to exchange information, share knowledge, and coordinate activities between research and direct patient care.”
The Man Behind the Mission
Enabling this kind of coordination requires Dharmarajan to build consensus across Keck’s entire organization, but building trust is one of the executive’s most defining characteristics. He began his career in pharmaceutical research working as a scientist in bioprocess development of biopharmaceuticals. But the last twenty-plus years of Dharmarajan’s career have come in the form of driving analytical innovation across healthcare including the City of Hope Hospitals and Beckman Research Institute and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. How does he do it?
“One of the core aspects of what I do is building trust,” Dharmarajan explains. “I take the faith placed in me by leaders very seriously, so in every step that I take, I seek to create trust through communication and providing explanations for why my team does what they do.”
For any organization, it can be challenging to bring change to a health system that has a track record of innovation, but Dharmarajan says that’s exactly why his role is so important. Operating on the front lines of innovation means a constant reassessment of both what has worked and what will create more viable opportunities to move forward. The executive sees himself as a change agent who takes it upon himself to provide the business case for that change.
“I try to be very proactive in challenging the status quo,” Dharmarajan says. “If there is a case for change, I will take it directly to the teams and make that case. There might be pushback and there may be a reason why change might not make sense at the time, but in having those direct discussions, I can both provide a roadmap for change and understand where others are coming from. That communication is so important for creating meaningful change.”
Dharmarajan’s talent for making the case for change comes part and parcel with a reputation for building great teams. The executive has earned this reputation by demonstrating a willingness to allow his people to lean into their strong suits as well as give them the space they need to build out new ones. He says a good leader understands and supports their people’s need for growth and development.
“I believe that delegating some authority is important while also providing clear expectations and entrusting people with delivering quality results,” Dharmarajan explains. “It’s also important to recognize that not every outcome is going to be what you expect. You need to celebrate the successes but also recognize the effort people have put in, even if it doesn’t work out the way you hoped. If the effort is there, you can always learn something from the process.”
It may not come as a surprise then that Dharmarajan believes in tackling big challenges with a positive mindset. That isn’t to say he’s naive or unaware of the challenge. The executive says he’s able to recognize the best parts of his people and hones in on those qualities. That positivity comes in especially handy when working across an organization building trust, creating a sense of ownership amongst his team, and acting as a change agent for Keck.
Dharmarajan says he learned early in his healthcare data journey that serving patients should always be the objective of anyone in a healthcare organization. By seeing a patient at the end of all of those ones and zeroes, the tech leader is able to create more harmony when it comes to unifying people, processes, and technology.
Picture Perfect Leadership
When Mayil Dharmarajan isn’t driving technological transformation in healthcare, he’s more than likely getting another scene into focus. The executive is an avid photographer who recently snapped over 2,800 photos on a trip to Israel and Jordan.
“Photography is relaxing and provides me with amazing memories,” he says. “It requires a lot of time editing, but it’s just part of the process. I always feel like I’m learning something new.”