Leumit Start director: Israel at forefront of health-tech revolution 

Izhar Laufer: Technology will enable fewer doctors to treat more patients.

TESTING FOR coronavirus at a Leumit Health Fund lab in Or Yehuda. (photo credit: FLASH90)
TESTING FOR coronavirus at a Leumit Health Fund lab in Or Yehuda.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

The medical world is in the midst of a technological revolution, according to Izhar Laufer, director of innovation and digital health for Leumit Health Services – and Israel can be at the forefront.

On Wednesday, Leumit Start, the health fund’s innovation arm, will host a special half-day workshop on some of the innovations that are being developed to improve patient care.

Speakers and panelists will also discuss how technology can be used to make healthcare more efficient.

Laufer said that Israel is uniquely positioned because it has more than 20 years of electronic health records — patient data that can be anonymized and then used by entrepreneurs and innovators through dedicated and approved clinical trials.

Leumit, he said, is working closely with a number of start-ups that are on the cusp of changing the way the fund does business.

Take for example the medical-grade, artificial intelligence triage and clinical-predictions platform developed by Diagnostic Robotics.

 Izhar Laufer the director of Leumit Start (credit: Courtesy) Izhar Laufer the director of Leumit Start (credit: Courtesy)

“Let’s say it is 10 p.m. and a person does not feel well, and he is trying to decide if he needs to go to the emergency department,” Laufer described. The platform embeds a natural and easy-to-use medical questionnaire inside the Leumit application. The person answers the questions and it is converted into a short, natural-language summary that a doctor can read quickly and understand.

“The doctor reads it, quickly determines if we are talking about a pressing situation and can then tell the patient what to do,” Laufer said.

The system has been tested and is already being used by a number of Leumit patients. Eventually, he said, it will also enable automatic referrals to the emergency room.

Another example is the use of Gyntools, an innovative microscopy-based diagnostic tool that can help doctors diagnose the reason for vaginal inflammation presenting with discharge, itch or pain in real-time.

The microscope is about the size of an espresso machine. The doctor swabs the woman and presents the sample and should have a diagnosis within five minutes.

Leumit Health Care Services mobile coronavirus vaccination unit. (credit: Courtesy)Leumit Health Care Services mobile coronavirus vaccination unit. (credit: Courtesy)

Today, according to Laufer, women are often treated by trial and error with creams and drugs, while doctors sometimes wait for days to hear back from the lab.

Leumit currently has Gyntools in four offices.

And these are just a sample of what Leumit Start is working on, which will be explored at the fund’s first-ever innovation conference on Wednesday.

“Leumit Start brings start-ups and researchers from within the health fund together so that we can improve patient health,” Laufer stressed, “and so we can develop innovation within the health fund for the future.”

He said that in 10 years, the technology of today will make the medicine of tomorrow look different. Treatments will be more proactive, Laufer said, and automation will help tell doctors who to prioritize in real time and enable them to treat patients faster.

“The number of doctors [relative] to patients is declining,” he said. “We need to find a way to make sure each doctor can work with more patients and still provide optimal care.”

According to Laufer, technology will be a big part of the solution.