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Innovations in Health Care
Exploring the newest technology, treatments and programs that are improving patient outcomes in South Jersey.

by Liz Hunter

It’s hard to name an industry that innovates as quickly as health care. Not only did they pivot nearly overnight during the height of the pandemic, but medical professionals have continued to harness technology to enhance treatment and patient outcomes across the spectrum of care. The following eight innovations further solidify South Jersey’s leadership in the health care landscape. 



Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reductions (BLVR)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs airflow. While there is currently no cure, Virtua Health offers Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reductions (BLVR) a new, minimally invasive procedure that can greatly improve quality of life for selected severe COPD patients. Virtua Health pulmonologist Syed Riaz, M.D., performed the health system’s first BLVR in spring 2021. 

Previously, a thoracic surgeon would perform lung volume reduction through complex surgery that required a long incision in the chest and removing the diseased portion of the lung. Now, pulmonologists are able to achieve the same result non-surgically. During the BLVR procedure, a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope is threaded into the lungs and small, endobronchial valves are placed in the most diseased portion the lungs. The valves cause the most diseased area of the lungs to collapse, which allows better airflow to the relatively healthier portion of the lungs. This procedure not only improves airflow, it also restores the proper mechanics of breathing for patients suffering from severe COPD. After the procedure, those with severe COPD can increase their physical activity and have more fulfilling enjoyment of their lives.


Monarch Platform 

Inspira Medical Center Vineland was among the first 100 hospitals in the country to employ Auris Health’s Monarch Platform, using robotic bronchoscopy for earlier and more accurate diagnosis of lung nodules. There are several existing diagnostic options currently available for lung cancer, but all have limitations that can lead to false positives, false negatives or side effects such as a collapsed lung or hemorrhage. The Monarch Platform utilizes a familiar controller interface that physicians use to navigate the flexible robotic endoscope to the periphery of the lung, with improved reach, vision and control. Combining traditional endoscopic views into the lung with computer-assisted navigation based on 3D models of the patient’s own lung anatomy, the technology provides physicians with continuous vision of the area in question throughout the entire procedure.

“Lung cancer survival rates improve significantly when cancer is caught at an early stage. This new technology will help us make a diagnosis earlier and allow us to reach smaller peripheral lung nodules that have been unreachable with other technologies,” says Charles Shieh, M.D., thoracic surgeon and medical director of lung cancer at Inspira Health. “We are excited about the promise of this new technology to offer a more hopeful future for our patients with lung cancer.”




Unwanted physical contact or assault has skyrocketed against health care staff in the past few years, with more than 60% of nurses nationwide saying they have been verbally abused in the workplace, and 30% physically attacked. This issue resulted in the development of a new badge system for patient-facing staff to help de-escalate volatile patient or visitor situations. Strongline—now in use at Jefferson Health-New Jersey as part of a regional pilot program—is a simple and instantly effective way for staff to immediately summon assistance to their specific location. Unlike other security systems, Strongline actually tracks the location of the staff member who has requested help, following them in real-time if they move from location to location. The Strongline button is lightweight and worn so staff can discreetly and easily reach it.

“This is a tremendous asset in terms of protecting our staff, patients and visitors from workplace violence,” says President Brian Sweeney. “With one push of a button, everyone in their unit is alerted to the situation. And it provides our security team with additional ‘real-time’ information. It’s an extra measure of safety for everyone.” 

Strongline is now in place at all three Jefferson New Jersey campuses. As Security Director Kevin Seta notes, “This is a big breakthrough in technology and one that truly helps staff feel safe in any crisis. Everyone in that unit is immediately alerted, which can make a huge difference in terms of how a situation plays out. Staff can immediately react to keep patients, visitors and themselves safe, or perhaps work together to diffuse an escalation. The safety of our patients, visitors and staff is a top priority at Jefferson.”



Penn Connects

When a patient leaves the hospital there is often a gap in communication as they return home. Research has shown that patients often only retain about 30% of their discharge instructions. The Penn Connects program aims to make a patient’s transition home safe and positive with outreach and engagement. Based around automated text messaging, Penn Connects enables patients to get answers to their individual questions, ensures they receive their medications and links them to providers for proper follow-up. There is also a nurse team working with the program that can reach out, often within an hour, if patients express any concerns. To date, more than 50,000 patients have been engaged through Penn Connects.



Long-Haul Clinic

Earlier this year, AtlantiCare launched a program to provide ongoing care for individuals who continue to experience complications from COVID-19, lasting or appearing more than 30 days after infection. Long-haul symptoms can include chronic pain, cough, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, shortness of breath and memory changes. Patients may also be at risk for more severe health issues, such as blood clots, organ damage, depression/anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and multisystem inflammatory syndrome. 

The Post-COVID-19 Long-Haul Clinic identifies individual patient treatment and rehabilitation needs and coordinates virtual or in-person appointments with specialists, including infection disease, pulmonary care, neurology, rheumatology, behavioral health and pain management, among others. 

“We designed this coordinated program to help individuals in our community who have experienced a wide-range of these ongoing COVID-caused issues,” says Mary Ann Yehl, D.O., medical director, telemedicine and ambulatory quality. “Consistent with trends we had identified, the most common issues we’ve seen through the clinic are anxiety and/or depression. They are followed by neurological problems, including cognitive issues and short-term memory loss, and lung and respiratory issues. Other patients have physical rehabilitation and other needs.”




Deborah’s interventional team continues to explore new devices and procedures designed to expand the pool of patients who are eligible to undergo minimally invasive procedures. Many of the newer generation devices have the ability to address patients’ conditions with more efficient approaches, providing solutions that offer shorter hospital stays with less risk. Since introducing the MitraClip procedure for leaking mitral valves (mitral regurgitation, or “MR”) in 2019, Deborah has introduced the latest device generation of clips called the G4 system, which allows for treatment of a broader set of patients who have unique anatomical differences that were not as easily treated with the older model clips. G4 also provides enhanced maneuverability and flexibility for the interventionalists who can now work on one leaflet of the valve at a time. Within the past year, the FDA has expanded the use of MitraClip to include not only those with degenerative MR, but also to those whose MR is secondary to heart failure (functional MR). This has paved the way to consider clinical studies looking at the use of MitraClip as a form of bridge therapy to delay the need for advanced heart failure therapies such as an LVAD or heart transplant.



Elekta Unity System (MR-Linac)

Earlier this year, physicians at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper treated their first patient with a new image-guided radiation treatment system that combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and linear accelerator radiation treatment (Linac) into one device. MD Anderson is one of only five cancer centers in the U.S., and the first in this region, to offer patients this treatment technology.

Approximately 50% of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy as part of their treatment plan. A primary objective of this type of therapy is to deliver the proper dose of radiation to the tumor without harming surrounding healthy tissue. Because the location of a tumor can shift as the patient inhales and exhales during treatment or as the tumor itself changes, maintaining accuracy can be challenging. While MRI and linear accelerator technologies have been used separately for years to diagnosis and treat cancer, until now the two technologies could not be used together because of the MRI’s magnetic field and its effect on the accelerator’s laser beam. 

“This is an exciting time for us and tremendous news for patients needing radiation therapy,” says Anthony Dragun, M.D., chair and chief of radiation oncology at MD Anderson at Cooper. “It gives our multidisciplinary team more treatment options, especially for patients with complex and metastatic cancers, and delivers truly personalized cancer care.” 



Along with experienced radiologists and technologists on staff, South Jersey Radiology (SJRA) also heavily invests in some of the newest, most advanced high-resolution detectors from Hologic, the market leader in mammography equipment. Since both firms are at the forefront of breast cancer screening, SJRA utilizes Hologic equipment and was the first practice in the state to offer 3D breast tomosynthesis technology. At SJRA, an ACR Breast Imaging Center of Excellence, mammography patients benefit from sharp images, an ergonomic design for patient comfort, low-dose technology that is proven to detect more invasive breast cancers with reduced callbacks, and all follow-up care seamlessly including breast MRI and breast biopsies.