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Hackensack Meridian CEO says AI could improve health of billions | HIMSS 2024


Robert Garrett, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian, talked about the potential for artificial intelligence to improve health outcomes, access, and equity.

Orlando, Florida – Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, says healthcare needs “radical transformation.”

Image: Ron Southwick, Chief Healthcare Executive

Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, talks about the potential of AI in healthcare during Tuesday's keynote address at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition.

In the keynote address of the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition Tuesday, Garrett talked about the potential of artificial intelligence to help people around the world lead healthier lives.

“AI and industry partnerships have the potential to improve health for billions and I mean billions of people. We cannot reach our highest aspiration to redefine health care, we without a revolutionary approach,” Garrett said.

“In general, AI has the potential to build healthier communities, on a scale and pace that were previously unimaginable,” he added. “We may detect disease earlier or develop drugs and vaccines faster, and help clinical teams avoid burnout.”

Improving outcomes and equity

AI is proving to be a dominant topic at the HIMSS Conference, as it has in other healthcare technology events. Garrett, the leader of New Jersey’s largest health system, said AI also dominated conversations at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January.

“No surprise the theme across all sectors was AI,” Garrett said. “You couldn't walk a few feet without hearing about AI.”

During his keynote address at HIMSS, Garrett talked enthusiastically about AI’s promise in healthcare, even as he talked about keys to using the technology responsibly.

AI can make it easier for more people to get access to healthcare, Garrett said. One in four Americans doesn’t have a primary care physician, and that number drops to one in two for Americans under the age of 30, he noted.

“I believe AI can help us really improve people's access to good healthcare,” Garrett said.

Beyond access, Garrett said that he believes AI can lead to better outcomes as well. He pointed to AI’s use in predictive analytics to identify the outset of diseases more quickly, enabling clinicians to offer more personalized treatment.

Going further, Garrett said AI can reduce disparities in health outcomes of underserved communities.

“There’s no question in my mind that AI can help to drive health equity, if it's done correctly,” Garrett said.

“I think about health equity in terms of even identifying the social determinants of health, who's at risk for one or more of the social determinants of health, and how can we really address that by linking people who have those exposures to great care and to great resources,” he said. “AI can really bridge that gap and hopefully close some of the disparities that exist in healthcare outcomes today.”

Citing a key theme from Davos, climate change, Garrett said AI can make a difference. “There's no doubt in my mind that AI can help us identify major events in the climate, and really give us the tools to help address some of the effects of climate change,” he said.

However, Garrett also pointed out the link between AI’s success and data quality.

“There's no generative AI without accurate data,” Garrett said. “I don't think anybody would disagree with that. The power of AI in healthcare is fundamentally tied to the quality, accessibility, and standardization of data.”

‘A strategic approach’

Garrett also outlined some of the ways AI is being used at Hackensack Meridian, a system with 18 hospitals and 500 sites of care. He said the system is taking “a strategic approach” to AI and has a number of AI-enabled tools in pilot programs. and under development.

“We are using responsible AI with humans always in the loop,” Garrett said.

“We're developing AI solutions to help radiologists prioritize review of critical cases. This can be a true game changer, considering that a radiologist reviews up to 200 images each and every day,” he said.

In addition, Hackensack Meridian is also using AI to help doctors detect advanced kidney disease earlier. “This could help delay dialysis treatment and even the need for a transplant.” Garrett said. This work also carries potential of improving health equity, since Black Americans are three times more likely than white patients to suffer kidney failure, he noted.

Hackensack Meridian is using AI-driven chatbots to help improve the patient experience, he said. At the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, “students are learning how to integrate AI into their training and to prioritize ethics and patient safeguards,” Garrett said.

“We consider it essential to thrive in a new state of healthcare,” he said.

‘It’s here to stay’

Garrett emphasized his optimism for AI, even as some have warned of grave consequences of its potential harms. He noted a well-known prediction from the late physicist, Stephen Hawking, who warned that artificial intelligence could lead to the end of mankind.

As chair of the World Economic Forum's (Forum) Health and Healthcare Governor's Community, Garrett said the organization would continue to push AI to help people around the world.

“We can't hold back this innovation,” Garrett said. “We all know it's here to stay. We must commit to deploying AI safely will effective governance and it can never be can never replace human intervention and oversight. We must obtain and secure accurate data protect patient privacy and commit to eliminating any potential for bias.”

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