Innovation Hub to Develop High-Tech Heart Services in New Jersey

Technology-enabled cardiovascular service will deliver new models of care.

Partho Sengupta, MD
Partho Sengupta, MD

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) treats high volumes of complex cardiothoracic conditions with the most advanced interventions available today. Now plans are under way for a digital transformation of cardiology services that will enhance all aspects of the patient journey by leveraging advanced technologies such as innovative devices, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

Leading the effort is Partho Sengupta, MD, who in July joined RWJUH and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) as the Henry Rutgers Professor of Cardiology and Chief of Cardiology, RWJMS, and Chief of Cardiology Service Line, RWJUH.

He will work closely with Anthony Altobelli, MD, Clinical Chief of Cardiology, RWJUH, and Mark Russo, MD, Chief of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, RWJUH, and Associate Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery, RWJMS, to lead one of the largest cardiovascular and thoracic services in the region. Dr. Sengupta brings a passion for technology-enabled education and care, experience in building a robust network of cardiologists in the community and a vision for transformation and innovation in cardiology.

Anthony Altobelli, MD
Anthony Altobelli, MD

“We’re advancing the design of a technology and innovation hub where diverse people including RWJUH faculty, community physicians and staff can come together to create new ideas and designs for clinical care and technologies that help find solutions to healthcare challenges,” Dr. Sengupta says. He points to the rapid expansion of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic as a familiar example of how technology can help solve vital problems. “It’s important to create a space and environment where we can find solutions with the right technology,” he says.

Data-Driven Insights

In some cases, the right technology could take the form of innovative devices. For example, a handheld device known as a pocket ultrasound can attach to a cell phone and deliver ultrasound images to the phone’s screen. “In addition to using a stethoscope, you can see the heart directly on your phone,” Dr. Sengupta says. “AI tools help navigate the process of taking the pictures.”

Mark Russo, MD
Mark Russo, MD

AI allows analysis of vast quantities of data mined from sources such as medical images to find patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed. “Many of the technologies we’ll be focusing on will have AI pipelines for developing solutions,” Dr. Sengupta says. “You can train a system to discover hidden meanings in unstructured information.”

AI is so important to the RWJUH and RWJMS cardiology innovation hub that Dr. Sengupta has brought on Naveena Yanamala, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, to direct data science and machine learning research. She joins another addition to the project, cardiologist Grace Casaclang-Verzosa, MD, who will serve as Administrative Director, focusing on operations, work flow and quality.

AI capabilities are the foundation of a rapidly evolving field known as radiomics, which uses algorithms to analyze data from a variety of radiology images or scans. The field has largely developed in the arena of cancer care but is increasingly being used in cardiology.

“Radiomics has shown how using AI can provide information about features such as tissue texture that almost give you a sense of a biopsy without taking a sample of the tissue,” Dr. Sengupta says. “When we apply that to cardiology, we can discover qualities such as whether a tissue is fibrotic, scarred or healthy.”

AI can use such insights to make predictions. Dr. Sengupta and his team are working to further develop tools that can take data from imaging or even electrocardiograms (ECGs), along with clinical information, to forecast which patients are most likely to develop heart failure, for example. “AI allows us to use existing images and technology to develop more accurate predictions of outcomes,” Dr. Sengupta says. “These data-driven prediction models help us identify who needs early intervention and better individualize care.”

Similar models can predict which hospitalized patients may need more intensive care and should stay longer and which are likely to do well if they are discharged. Dr. Sengupta’s team is working with vendors to develop tools that may continually monitor patient ECGs at home. “ We may be able to predict several hours ahead that someone is becoming sicker and needs to get back to the hospital,” he says. “Use of such models needs to evolve, and that’s where the innovation and technology hub comes in.”

Meeting of Minds

Further evolving these technologies through the innovation hub may entail working with vendors or conducting research to discover or develop concepts, hardware, systems and other types of intellectual property in a form of internal entrepreneurship. The hub will also foster further education about established technologies such as telemedicine.

The vision of a technology-enabled cardiovascular service that optimizes patient health through new models of care promises a number of important benefits, Dr. Sengupta says. These include making better sense of data pertaining to patients, augmenting medical decision making, further standardizing care from one doctor to another and ultimately finding more time to spend with patients to provide high-quality care.

“This can’t happen without a multidisciplinary approach,” Dr. Sengupta says—another reason for a hub that brings together minds from a variety of specialties. “The field of cardiology technology is evolving very rapidly and becoming very exciting,” he says. “There’s energy and enthusiasm for taking a forward-looking approach both within Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and RWJBarnabas Health. We’re positioning ourselves optimally to launch into the future.”

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. To connect with a top cardiovascular specialist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, call 888-724-7123.