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Exec hopes to blend technology, health care through NJIT's new institute

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Tomas Gregorio hopes to combine tech and health care through NJIT's new institute.
Tomas Gregorio hopes to combine tech and health care through NJIT's new institute. - (New Jersey Innovation Institute)

Tomas Gregorio brings years of experience getting technology to improve health care to his new post at the New Jersey Institute of Technology's New Jersey Innovation Institute, launched earlier this year to help spur innovation and economic growth throughout the state.

Gregorio, a former IT chief at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center who has helped New Jersey hospitals and doctors make the switch to electronic health records, was named senior director of Healthcare Systems Innovation at the institute and oversees its “i-Lab,” where NJIT will forge partnerships to create innovative health care products and services.

The institute houses two major health IT initiatives that NJIT launched five years ago: NJ-HITEC, which has helped 8,000 New Jersey physicians adopt electronic medical records, and the Highlander Health Data Network, whose six member hospitals in northern New Jersey share medical data to improve the coordination of care to the patients they serve.

NJ-HITEC was funded with a $23 million federal grant, and Gregorio helped write the application while he was the chief technology officer at Newark Beth Israel. Grant funding is winding down, and Gregorio’s mission includes making NJ-HITEC self-sustaining by having NJIT faculty, researchers and students work with hospitals, health plans, physician groups and entrepreneurs to bring new ideas to the health care space.

Gregorio earned his executive MBA from NJIT.  After leaving Newark Beth Israel in 2010, he went on to become chief executive of Meadowlands Hospital and then joined HealthEC, a health care IT company.

He said getting doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic medical records was just the first step: Now, the challenge is to foster innovation and take full advantage of the power of digital records to improve the health of the population.

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Gregorio said he’s talking to a potential client that wants to develop a wearable device to monitor heart rhythms.

“We have the researchers and scientists at NJIT, and we can bring everyone together to collaborate on how to bring this new technology to market,” he said.

The institute is a nonprofit that will do research projects on a contract basis, or in some cases, may share the revenue of a successful venture.

He said one project now underway is “an ear cuff monitor that looks like an earring that can monitor a person’s blood glucose level.”

The institute is also working with a large physician practice in New Jersey, helping it roll out a software solution.

“Part of the expertise of our high tech staff is that we know how to work in a physician practice,” Gregorio said. That knowledge, gained through years of helping doctors adopt electronic medical records systems, means his staff members “know how to talk to the doctors and the practice manager, and that skill is very valuable in the marketplace.”

Through the years, NJ-HITEC has helped 8,000 doctors transition to electronic health records and to receive the grants that the federal government awarded to defray the cost of the upfront investment in these new systems.

But Gregorio said many practices are not yet taking full advantage of the power of digital technology. The next step, he said, is for physicians to use them effectively.

“The goal is to be able to analyze a population of patients and figure out which are the sickest and which need the most help,” he said.  Electronic records enable the physician practice to keep tabs, for example, on patients with diabetes. The practice can then devote more time to “that 3 percent of the patient population that is costing you 30 percent of your dollars.”

Technology will enable the practice to flag diabetics who need to see an endocrinologist, podiatrist and eye doctor.  Making sure a patient is getting the right care can reduce hospital admission and ER visits, and thus can reduce health spending.

He said the institute is “very interested in doing research and producing intellectual property that will help in the overall goal of making us much healthier than we are now.”

Gregorio said NJIT has tremendous resources that can be devoted to health care innovations: biomedical engineers, faculty who are health care researchers, industrial engineers and students.

He said the motto of the institute’s president, long-time NJIT research chief Donald Sebastian, is “‘How can we help you?’ How can we help you achieve what you need to do as a business, a hospital, a physician, a payer? We will be that breeding ground where everyone can collaborate.”

Later this month, Gregorio will make a presentation to NJIT’s new-venture incubator, the Enterprise Development Center, which has 90 startup businesses, a number of them working in health care: “I want to talk to them about opportunities to collaborate with the institute and our potential customers.”

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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