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For hospitals, being first means they have what it takes

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Earlier this month RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers University announced the launch of a private-public partnership to create “New Jersey’s largest academic health system.”

In January, Hackensack Meridian Health announced its John Theurer Cancer Center was the first site in the state certified to offer CAR-T cell cancer therapy, a cutting-edge, cell-based gene therapy.

And at the end of 2017, Penn Medicine and Virtua announced an alliance they touted will bring the first proton therapy [for treating cancer] to South Jersey.

What being first means

Is being “first”— or among the first — that important? Or is it just a matter of bragging rights?

“It can be important to be No. 1 with a new product or service,” according to Amy Delman, owner of Amy Delman Public Relations LLC, who represents clients in multiple industries. “It’s important because being the first can differentiate your business. It can help you make the leap from the competition. When you become known for being the best at something — think of Memorial Sloan Kettering and its reputation for cancer care — you draw in more people who need your services. That’s true in every industry.”

For Joseph Scott, RWJBH’s executive vice president in the Office of Health Care Transformation and CEO of Jersey City Medical Center, a “first” announcement shows that “an organization has what it takes to make something like this happen. It’s clearly not just bragging rights.”

“Our patients and our communities expect us to deliver high quality care which includes the most innovative treatment and practices. To deliver on this promise, we must have systems in place to support creation and implementation of novel therapies.”

- Robert Garrett, Hackensack Meridian Health

The partnership with Rutgers, for example, “reflects (RWJBH CEO) Barry Ostrowsky’s vision for true academic partnership. It’s also newsworthy because it enables both facilities to do an ever-better job of servicing different communities,” Scott added. “Health care is a local issue, because there may be different issues in each community. Once we understand the local needs, we can integrate the knowledge in the broader strategy that’s implemented across communities.”

As an example, he noted Jersey City Medical Center previously launched a pediatric asthma program after representatives “met with the local community, including the boards of the elementary and middle schools, and discovered that multiple children were not being promoted to the next grade because they had missed too much of the school year. We drilled down on the statistics and found that many suffered from pediatric asthma.

“In response, the medical center designed and implemented a program to connect with the children’s families when they were initially admitted to the emergency department. Team members visited the parents’ residence and pointed out how certain pets in the home, or improperly cleaned ductwork, can aggravate pediatric asthma and how medicine can help prevent an acute attack.”

In the four years since the program launched, “We’re seeing fewer children being left back,” he noted. “And with greater awareness, the stigma of being left back because of health problems has been eased, so there’s psychological and self-esteem improvement, too.”

Innovation and strategy

When Hackensack Meridian Health’s co-CEO Robert Garrett talks about his institution’s “firsts” — like the January cell-based gene therapy announcement — he says it demonstrates that “innovation is at the core of our culture. Our patients and our communities expect us to deliver high quality care which includes the most innovative treatment and practices. To deliver on this promise, we must have systems in place to support creation and implementation of novel therapies.”

Today’s challenging reimbursement climate “makes us more strategic than ever,” he added. “While we create an environment for discovery, we are also focused on delivering care in the most efficient manner possible. That means harnessing the power of big data to improve outcomes while lowering costs.”

To illustrate this, he offered the organization’s Medicare ACO, or Accountable Care Organization, at Hackensack University Medical Center, which is “ranked third in the nation with an impressive quality score of 92 and cost savings of $50.5 million as of the most recent data from 2016.”

“We provided highly coordinated care through enhanced data analytics and more care coordinators,” Garrett said. “The result? A 33 percent decrease in emergency visits and a 47 percent decrease in hospital readmissions.”

Being located in New Jersey also helps, he said. “There are tremendous advantages in operating in New Jersey – we have a highly educated workforce and we have an outstanding ecosystem that fosters discovery. The state is home to more than 21,000 health care establishments, which means New Jersey is leading the way in state-of-the art health care delivery. Additionally, New Jersey’s health care industry plays an important role in the health of our state’s economy, contributing $37 billion annually.”

A different kind of 'first'

For organizations like Virtua Health, being first isn’t limited to technology or procedures, according to Stephanie Fendrick, a senior vice president and the chief strategy officer at the health care organization. “Sometimes it’s about recognizing the health needs of a community and quickly responding with the necessary services,” she said. “As an example, on Sept. 20, we will open the Virtua Food Pantry at Virtua Memorial Hospital, a first of its kind in the region.”

The program enables Virtua primary care physicians and doctors in the emergency department to “prescribe” free food and fresh produce to patients, which are then available for pickup in the hospital.

Other health care executives, like Inspira Health Network President and CEO John DiAngelo, also take a wide view of the “first” issue. He said that being first at something — like Inspira’s June announcement that it would launch South Jersey’s first inpatient acute medical detox unit — can be exciting, “but that’s not what motivates us. Our decisions to bring something new to the region are directly tied to our mission of improving the lives of all we serve.”

That’s why his organization opened the first senior emergency department in the Delaware Valley last October. “We made the decision because we believed it was the best way forward to provide these services to our community, not because we wanted to be first,” according to DiAngelo.

Still, being first can be a competitive advantage. “If we stand still as an organization, we are moving backward,” he said. “To provide the best care to our communities and remain financially strong, we must continue to innovate and be responsive to the needs and preferences of our communities. We can’t afford not to make these investments.”

According to Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System, “Bringing a new procedure, therapy or clinical achievement to the state or nation is a testament to a hospital’s commitment to its patients and to elevating the quality of care available to the communities it serves.”

“We are also harnessing technology to improve access and affordability,” he added.  “Through mobile apps and online appointment scheduling, patients can seek care when it’s convenient for them. And with telehealth technology in our ambulances, physicians can use the precious minutes during transport to assess patients in real time, enabling us to initiate treatment even sooner.”

There’s some prestige in being first, but the title also has some challenges, noted Virtua’s Fendrick. “Being the first in anything presents certain risks, as there is no road map to follow,” she said. “A great deal of research, listening, and planning is necessary before you can even entertain thoughts of ‘bragging rights.’”

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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