Not one-size-fits-all approach; RWJBarnabas Health heart and lung program is multidisciplinary collaboration

As New Jersey’s leading provider of high-quality cardiac procedures and diagnostic testing, the RWJBarnabas Health system, which is comprised of 13 hospitals and two medical schools, provides care across a large portion of the state. 

Taking care of nearly 6 million of the 9 million people in the New Jersey is no easy task. But it is one the hospital system takes very seriously.  

Dr. Arash Salemi, chairman of cardiothoracic surgery, RWJBarnabas Health – Northern Region, oversees the cardiac surgical programs, including the transplantation of both hearts and lungs.

Salemi, who performs all forms of adult cardiac surgery with a particular interest in valvular heart disease, is an international leader in structural heart disease. He told ROI-NJ that the care of patients with cardiovascular disease is as much art as it is science.   

“RWJ’s commitment to cardiac care extends to the furthest reaches of New Jersey. We are uniquely positioned within the state, and we house the only heart and lung transplantation programs in New Jersey,” Salemi said. 

The health system offers a variety of programs, including but not limited to, cardiovascular and thoracic disease prevention, advanced diagnosis and treatment and continued support for patients living with cardiovascular and thoracic conditions. 

Salemi is proud to be part of the system that has access to a wide range of therapeutic options that allows him and his team, as care providers, to customize a treatment plan. 

“We’ve done roughly 1,200 heart transplants, which puts us in the top handful in the whole country. That comes through dedicated teamwork and efforts across all real disciplines of care, not just in cardiovascular medicine and cardiovascular surgery, but certainly many ancillary services, infectious disease, pulmonary services, anesthesia, intensive care and social work,” Salemi said. 

RWJ happens to have two heart transplant programs, the system’s program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and a heart transplant program at its New Brunswick campus. It also has the only lung transplantation program in the state, which is located at its Newark Beth Israel campus. The system also offers the only pediatric cardiac surgical services in New Jersey and has the only fellowship in New Jersey in cardiac surgery. Every year, the hospital system graduates trainees who go out and begin independent practice in cardiac surgery.   

Salemi could not be prouder of those programs, the service line and the services, his staff, teammates and everyone who’s involved on a day-to-day basis taking care of its patients. He said RWJ feels a deep responsibility to the medical care of the local communities. 

One of the strengths of the hospital’s program, and something Salemi is personally very proud of, is its ability to work in a multidisciplinary fashion to deliver the types of treatments that can’t be found anywhere else.  

“Medical care is delivered best when disease processes are approached in a multidisciplinary fashion,” he said. “When someone has coronary artery disease, you want the care to be determined by a meeting of the minds of people of different backgrounds with different areas of expertise,” he said. 

Any time a patient comes in who has any degree of heart failure, Salemi said there are various “tools in the toolbox” in terms of treatment options, and one of the things he said he and his team do uniquely well is create a multidisciplinary team around each individual case and patient. 

“We’ve been able to help patients far and wide on a daily basis by tailoring our treatment specifically to a patient’s physiologic needs. The strength of our programs really is how we can cater the treatment to the individual,” he said.

While each patient is unique, risk factors and treatment options vary between individuals and, almost always, determining the best medical care entails strong collaborative and multidisciplinary evaluation and discussion. 

“The complementary backgrounds and skills, plus the sharing of common health goals and exercising concerted physical and mental effort in assessing, planning or evaluating patient care ensures that a patient can receive cardiovascular care at the highest level, right in their own backyard,” he said.

With the different disciplines of staff working together, a detailed plan of care is created from several medical specialties, each focused on a specific patient’s condition, treatment goals and methods for improving outcomes. 

“We can really customize the care in a way that’s just unique to the particular patient. It’s not one size fits all. It’s really a focus on the needs of each individual so they receive a customized treatment plan and that comes through deep collaboration. It’s through collaborations that we actually are able to achieve some of the amazing results that you see and hear about,” Salemi said.