Bob Garrett

HMH’s Garrett on Humanizing Healthcare

Healthcare system CEO discusses community outreach and better provider-to-patient interactions.

Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) is bringing healthcare delivery to the communities it serves, rather than having community residents visit the system’s hospitals.

As Bob Garrett, CEO of the state’s largest healthcare system, explains, “It’s our belief that people are seeking healthcare closer to home as more care is being delivered outside the walls of a hospital.”

HMH boasts 17 hospitals in its network, but that network also includes some 500 other facilities that comprise ambulatory, surgery, urgent care, fitness & wellness, and assisted living centers, physician offices and post-acute care facilities. “We offer the whole continuum of care,” Garrett says.

At the healthcare system’s annual meeting earlier this spring, Garrett also said he is seeking to “humanize” healthcare. He tells New Jersey Business that “because of all the regulatory requirements and the fact that a lot of notes and information are being entered by electronic means, there are probably less face-to-face interactions between providers and patients, so what we are trying to do is maximize that quality time. … That is going to make for better providers.”

That increase of in-person interactions is happening on many fronts at HMH.

In one example, students enrolled in the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University are taking part in a community immersion program in which they adopt or “follow” families in a community for their three or four years of medical school.

“It’s extraordinary to see students, who go out in pairs, become so invested in these patients,” Garrett says. “The social determinants here are so important because it impacts things such as food and nutrition, housing and transportation. Believe it or not, there are families out there who do not have refrigerators to store their medications, so students are actually finding solutions for them. They even obtain Uber service for patients.

On another related front, Garrett says home care is the future of healthcare delivery and that HMH’s home care program, currently operating in nine counties, will continue to expand.

Meanwhile, the medical school is implementing an interdisciplinary learning concept where nursing, medical and allied health students attend classes together to better understand each other’s roles in treating patients in and out of the hospital. “There is a lot of data that shows that when providers function as a team, health outcomes improve,” Garrett says.

Though he previously said that technology and data were impeding the delivery of face-to-face healthcare, Garrett also sees technology as helping in doctor/patient relationships. He says, “Sometimes doctors are running from place to place, so if patients are comfortable with telemedicine or telehealth technologies, they can actually get a better humanized experience.”

The feedback that HMH has been receiving on this front has been positive, Garrett says, explaining that both elderly and young patients have commented that their telemedicine experiences have enabled them to spend the longest time they’ve ever had with their doctors. “I think what is happening here is that people are much more comfortable with digital tools and systems,” Garrett says.

He believes that HMH is ahead of the curve when it comes to “humanism” in the medical approach. “There is a culture and philosophy here that centers around that, but the industry in general is beginning to adopt the same types of principles.”

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