Garrett, chairing key committee at Davos, has N.J. at forefront of global AI discussion in health care

Hackensack CEO has leading role in discussions of world leaders on how artificial intelligence will be used in health care

Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett received the 2023 Chairman’s Award from the Research & Development Council of New Jersey.

When health care leaders from around the globe met last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they agreed that artificial intelligence is a useful tool in health care — and that they must work together to ensure that it will be used safely and effectively.

New Jersey, thanks to Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett serving as chair of the Health and Healthcare Governor’s Community, will have an important role in the discussion.

Garrett, a longtime participant at Davos, led a group that not only includes leaders from pharmaceuticals, medical devices and providers, but also health organizations and ministers, including Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chair of the World Health Organization; the head of the Institute of Medicine in the U.S. — as well as the health ministers of India and Brazil.

Garrett will serve in the position for two years — a role he will play throughout the year as the working groups formed in Davos will continue to discuss the issue through 2024 and beyond.

Garrett said the biggest takeaway from the initial meeting was that the health care community must embrace AI — which will enable it to play an influential role in its use.

“Everybody in every aspect of the industry embraced AI as a transformative technology for health care,” he said. “Everybody agreed, we can’t hold back this innovation — but we have use it carefully as we move forward.”

The group emphasized a few major points around that, Garrett said:

  • Obtain and secure accurate data;
  • Do not slow the process of AI through excessive regulation.

“We do not want the safeguards around the governance of AI to be super regulatory,” he said.

The idea was pushed by the health ministers, among others. The reason, Garrett said, is simple: The technology is developing too quickly.

“The health ministers all agreed that they shouldn’t be overly prescriptive on the regulations and that the governance should emanate from the sector itself — and that they then would work hand in glove in a private-public partnership,” he said.

Garrett called that “welcome news.”

N.J. leading the way

Hackensack Meridian Health is one of only three U.S. health care providers that are part of the health care working group at the World Economic Forum in Davos, joining the Mayo Clinic (from Minnesota) and Kaiser Permanente (from California).

Having HMH CEO Bob Garrett serving as chair certainly gave New Jersey a global boost in branding, he said.

“There certainly was a lot of street credibility for Hackensack Meridian, but for New Jersey in particular,” Garrett said. “I took the opportunity, whenever I could, to talk about how New Jersey was leading in health care and in artificial intelligence, thanks to Gov. (Phil) Murphy making it a top priority.

“Davos provided a big boost for the state.”

“Regulations are not going to be imposed down,” he said. “It is going to be a collaborative process to come to an agreement as to how we should govern AI and to make sure it used safely and for the right purposes.”

Garrett said the group worked to connect AI to the four strategic health care priorities that have been developed at Davos in recent years:

  • Expanding access to health care;
  • Promoting health equity through the globe and closing disparities that exist today;
  • Providing better outcomes and thus providing better value to countries and to health care consumers;
  • Researching the impact climate change has on health and health care.

“All of those four pillars were looked at through the lens of artificial intelligence — and how AI could help to promote or to enhance some of the goals that were set in those four categories,” Garrett said.

The event at Davos, which ran from Jan 15-19, including numerous panel discussions and work groups with leaders such as the heads of Novartis, the Mayo Clinic, the Royal Phillips company and the American Heart Association. Those public discussions were followed by private working groups.

Garrett, who moderated much of the discussion in Switzerland, has remained in the lead of the group since returning to New Jersey — keeping those involved working on the topic.

“I’m going to continue to get our steering committee together, month by month, leading up to next year,” he said.

Ensuring that the data available is used accurately keys another goal by the group — to increase public trust in AI.

“We’ll have a working plan as to how to promote AI so that people trust it — meaning providers, doctors, nurses, patients, consumers and, of course, policymakers,” he said. “We have to educate people continually, so they trust that AI is being used safely.”