Covid-19 has made telemedicine – technologies that provides remote medical care and digital medicine and connect caregivers and patients – the hottest and most talked about tech field worldwide. While the global pandemic has given a huge boost to what appears to be the next digital revolution in the medical world, Israel has long internalised the great potential of telemedicine, making it a national priority and providing huge budgets, relevant regulation and encouraging collaborations between health organisations, research institutions, start-up companies and independent researchers.
A New York Times headline from 20 April 2020 stating “10 Years of Change in One Week’: Telemedicine on Fast Track” best describes the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the field of telemedicine worldwide. The pandemic has accelerated the medtech sector in digital medicine in particular. Most existing technologies were already in development before covid-19, but rather than entering the market roughly a decade on from being developed, they will be assimilated at an accelerated pace and will soon be an integral part of everyday life. Experts say that within months, healthcare systems around the world will completely change in at least three areas with regard to digital health:
- home diagnosis, monitoring, hospitalisation and rehabilitation; and
- making relevant medical information accessible from large databases, while enabling supportive decision-making systems.
The covid-19 pandemic has brought on a new normal of medical treatment. The ultimate example of the major changes made possible by it is the rapid change and openness to adopt technologies, from both the service providers and the patients, including the elderly.
In March 2018, Israel announced a national priority programme called Digital Health as an Engine of Growth. This is a joint collaboration of six government ministries and includes an unprecedented investment amount of almost NIS1 billion (about $250 million) until 2023. The programme’s main goals are to:
- make the Israeli health system a world leader, based on telemedicine and digital health solutions;
- promote clinical and academic research in Israel in the field of digital health; and
- transform the digital healthcare industry in Israel into a national growth engine and a global innovation hub.
This national priority programme embodies the understanding of the importance of digital health for the effectiveness in the health system and the need to provide strategic, systemic and comprehensive solutions for the years to come. Of course, even before the outbreak of covid-19, the programme had significant economic potential and encouraged major innovation, which placed Israel at the forefront of the medical revolution.
The term ‘digital medicine’ is broad and incorporates many other smaller fields, such as technologies for remote treatment and information gathering Big Data, AI, robotics and genetic information. Nowadays, more than 500 digital medicine companies operate in Israel, along with around 500 medical device companies that have digital applications for home use. Among the innovative products that are now being developed and patented in Israel include digital tele-systems that allow for:
- early detection of diseases;
- robots that help treat patients remotely without risking the medical staff;
- home medical devices and applications capable of performing blood and urine tests; and
- medical examinations of the lungs, throat, ears, among many other things.
Israel’s national priority programme, together with the accelerated development and implementation of new medical technologies post-covid-19, has made more and more international companies express interest in the Israeli market. For example, Samsung has made several investments in Israeli start-ups in the digital medicine field in the past few years via RUNWAY, an entrepreneurship programme founded by Samsung. Medtronic and IBM also announced a collaboration with Rambam Medical Centre for developing telemedicine technologies with Israeli start-ups. Israel enjoys a significant advantage due to the combination of human capital, a relatively large number of companies involved in the development of digital medicine and a relatively high investment in R&D. It is also a powerhouse of innovation in communications and cyber technologies, which plays a key role in the development of innovative digital medicine that will spread out worldwide. Today, health funds, medical centres and patients worldwide are more open to adopting these technological innovations, therefore bringing the future of medical care closer than ever.