Dr. Andrew Pecora said he was honored and humbled when he received the Health Care Executive of the Year award at the NJBIZ Healthcare Heroes awards event Tuesday.
Pecora, the president of physician services and chief innovation officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, was quick to recognize his colleagues in the crowd as well as the other honorees at the event.
But, more than anything else, Pecora acknowledged the times, saying the sector is set up for many advances in the years to come.
“We are in an amazing time in science, medicine and in the history of health care,” he told the crowd of more than 400 at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset.
“I can’t think of a better time to be in health care. When you look at the life sciences, computational sciences and where material sciences are now, and how these are all coming together, we’re talking about not just changing how we deliver health care, but how we manage this want to change by bringing these forces together with what we can offer.”
Pecora is doing just that. And has been for more than 25 years.
In 1989, Percora spearheaded the development of the John Theurer Cancer Center’s Adult Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Program. It is responsible for many advancements used in stem cell transplantation today.
In fact, Pecora told the crowd, it is now “the largest bone marrow transplant program, not just in the United States but in the world, in the number of patients who receive transplants.”
Soon after, Pecora launched Cancer Outcomes Tracking and Analysis, or COTA, a program which brings computers into the sphere of diagnoses.
He could have left medicine and become the CEO and driven the system into every provider around the world. Instead, he spun out the company, stayed put as an oncologist, and started on the next move: bringing his former employer, cancer brand Memorial Sloan Kettering, from New York into New Jersey.
But that wasn’t enough.
Pecora then ramped up Hackensack Meridian Health's partnership with the New Jersey Innovation Institute, affiliated with the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, with a new incubator space and tracked program for startups both in New Jersey and abroad.
Most recently, Pecora helped bring COTA together with IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence to tackle cancer care. When developing COTA, he worked with IBM and Microsoft to develop a prototype, and is now partnering with the former to make what some may recognize as a sci-fi treatment scenario into reality.
“Imagine your doctor walks in and says, ‘I just consulted with everyone on the planet Earth over the last 30 years to see how they took care of people like you, and then I looked at a database that precisely looked at people who have exactly what you have, and are exactly like you, and this is what I have learned in the past five minutes, and this is why I am going to recommend this treatment,’” he said.
“It was only dreamed about, it was only in science fiction movies, and now it’s become reality.”
Of course, the reality is that today’s health care sector has numerous challenges, Pecora said.
“We are all saddled with the ongoing debates about the problems of health care and we all know that we’re inefficient and we spend too much money,” he told the crowd. “We do not, as a nation, want to ever go down the path where we’re rationing health care.”
Thankfully, Pecora said, those in the room are making a difference.
“I’m proud to say that New Jersey is in the lead in the nation in regard to care transformation and where we are going as a health care system,” he said. “We are going to lead the country and move away from fee-for-service to prospective payment. That we are going to use Big Data and precision analytics in the context of how best to treat an individual patient and put them in the hands of doctors and patients is s unbelievable.
“So, I encourage all of you to be excited and passionate about it and realize that in the state of New Jersey, we are the leaders of the new health care.”
And for Pecora, there’s no better place.
“I’m a Jersey guy,” he said. “I was born in Newark, I grew up in Nutley and I went to college in New Jersey and medical school in New Jersey.”