Dr. Lakkireddy was named among the 2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA Graduates by Poets & Quants.
DJ Lakkireddy, MD, MBA’22, is an experienced cardiologist and physician executive. He knows his way around the OR like he understands the heart: inside out. But after completing the Physician MBA Program at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Dr. Lakkireddy says he views healthcare differently.
“Prior to earning the MBA, I would never think about my per-case cost in the operating room when asking for tools or materials. There was no conscious effort to understand what the items I selected translated to in terms of operational costs, and I would become frustrated when administrators asked me to use something cheaper or questioned whether I truly needed it,” Dr. Lakkireddy said.
“Now I’m very cost conscious, and I’ve become an advocate for efficiency driven by minimizing waste. Suddenly, I speak the same language as the administrators, and they’re no longer my adversaries. I’ve changed my perspective because I understand exactly where the administrators are coming from. That’s just one facet of a change in myself. If you multiply that by the hundreds of different decisions I make each day, you get a sense of the financial implications of having that new dimension of understanding.”
Dr. Lakkireddy’s potential reach with his newfound medical perspective is extensive. He is medical director at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute in Kansas City and professor of medicine at the University of Missouri—Columbia and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He sits on the boards of the Heart Rhythm Society and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and he chairs the ACC’s Electrophysiology Leadership Council. He knows medicine. But it wasn’t until the Physician MBA that he truly felt he understood the business of healthcare.
“The concepts you learn at the Kelley School are not as cut-and-dried as they are in medicine. The business administration aspects of healthcare are conceptually broader and have a lot more to do with people than numbers,” Dr. Lakkireddy said. “It’s about understanding human behavior, interpersonal communication, leadership, conflict resolution, workflows and efficiencies, and grasping the numbers. This experience will add a new and amazing dimension to your thought process as a physician.”
This experience will add a new and amazing dimension to your thought process as a physician.”
Dr. Lakkireddy has wanted to be a doctor since he was a small boy in Proddatur, India. He was inspired by his family doctor, who treated him after he spiked a fever at school one day.
“I got very sick. My fever rose rapidly to 104 degrees, approaching 105, and I was in a state of delirium. My mother tells me that the doctor ordered a bunch of ice and dunked me into a tank, keeping me there for two hours to bring down my temperature while he sat next to me. He recognized malaria right away and administered the anti-malaria medications. Within a few days, I was out of the hospital,” Dr. Lakkireddy said. “I very much appreciated his compassion, focus on saving lives, and how he applied his knowledge for the greater societal good. It was incredible. That gave me a very strong sense of purpose, which drove me toward a medical career.”
As Dr. Lakkireddy earned his MD and moved up the ranks of clinical medicine into administrative roles, he recognized the need for a better understanding of the business of healthcare and leading teams. He researched top business schools before ultimately selecting the Kelley School of Business Physician MBA Program.
“Kelley was my top choice because it had a fantastic track record of satisfied alumni; it’s located nearby in Indianapolis, and it’s reasonably priced. The Physician MBA Program had all the necessary ingredients I wanted in terms of course selection, professors, and teaching style. I’m very glad I made this decision,” Dr. Lakkireddy said. “The program is well balanced. The faculty come from varied backgrounds with unique perspectives. The enrollees are quite diverse as well. You have people from everywhere, speaking probably 30 different languages. It has been a unique and rewarding experience from a diversity perspective.”
The entire curriculum in the Physician MBA Program is focused on the most topical lessons that are directly applicable to a physician’s career. Financial forecasting, accounting, and operations are all taught in relation to the healthcare backdrop in which the physicians are working. The courses are designed to be applied immediately to the challenges physicians are facing. Dr. Lakkireddy used the course, “Operations Analysis & Process Improvement,” to cut wait times at his clinics.
“Our ambulatory clinics had problems seeing patients in a timely manner, which means time wasted. We mapped out the process in class and identified hidden inefficiencies, such as the need for device checks, issues with medical assistants bringing patients into the rooms promptly, and not being able to properly use NPs and fellows,” Dr. Lakkireddy explained. “Ultimately, we were able to find a handful of low-hanging fruit issues that we could curb to quickly improve the workflow. The immediate knowledge you gain in the Physician MBA can be put to work for your own practice. Our typical wait times used to be 120 minutes, and we shaved off 30 minutes for all the outpatient ambulatory clinics.”
The immediate knowledge you gain in the Physician MBA can be put to work for your own practice.”
On the academic side of his work, Dr. Lakkireddy says he learned how to run a tighter research operation, from raising money to creating accountability for dollars spent. He says he gained a more entrepreneurial bend to his research work and learned how to build a business framework around his ideas to increase the likelihood of their success. He says his perspective—and his outlook on the industry—has changed.
“Most of us in the western world are part of large medical institutions, so we aren’t as nimble as doctors in other countries who are forced to be more entrepreneurial. The changing trends in healthcare delivery and cost cutting—in fact, the overall greater emphasis on cost—automatically puts us at a disadvantage, and if we physicians don’t understand the business of medicine, we will perpetuate the status quo of continued, adversarial relationships with administrative executives,” Dr. Lakkireddy said. “For us to successfully navigate the 21st century healthcare model, physicians need to step up into administrative roles. We need to understand healthcare finances, and we need to have ownership in the decision making. You’re only able to do that by embracing business knowledge to be a better partner in this new world of order we’re creating as physician leaders.”
To successfully navigate the 21st century healthcare model, physicians need to step up into administrative roles. You’re only able to do that by embracing business knowledge to be a better partner in this new world of order we’re creating as physician leaders.”
Busy physicians often wonder how they will fit a rigorous MBA program into their already packed schedules. Dr. Lakkireddy and his wife, Madhuri, are both physicians who were raising two teenage daughters, Meghana and Avani, during his studies. He says he made it work, thanks to a “saint of a wife” and prioritizing his education. In fact, Dr. Lakkireddy says the biggest myth about going back to school is that there’s no time.
“It’s funny; once they are teenagers, your kids don’t have as much time to talk to you anymore. I made a deal with my kids that we sit down and do our homework together. That’s a win. Now they say, ‘What was your grade, Dad? Did you make an A or B?’’ he laughs. “They tease me about my grades, and I tease them about theirs. It was a fun little competition. I would show off my best grades to let them know their old man is still pulling along decently.”
As he moves on from the program, Dr. Lakkireddy knows in plain terms what his professional goals are: To truly make healthcare access better, cheaper, and more efficient. Whether it’s in the sphere of clinical medicine, healthcare industry innovation, medical research, or healthcare education, the business improvement principles he gained can be fundamentally applied to all the dimensions in which physicians work. He feels empowered to introduce change to achieve these ends because he knows there’s a new world of medicine, and physician MBAs are poised to lead it.
“The model in which physicians came to work, took a salary, treated patients, and went home is gone. The model is now very much business driven, and we all have the RVU (relative value unit) to remind us how much we’ll be compensated,” Dr. Lakkireddy said. “The element of business has crept into the practice of medicine, whether you like it or not, and a sound understanding of healthcare economy, delivery costs, and revenues has become even more important for physicians to lead.”