Israeli start-up helps quarantined coronavirus patients feel less lonely

The options offered by the service are easily accessible on the TV screen with a remote controller, even for people who are less tech-savvy.

Head of Sheba Medical Center's telemedicine program Dr. Galia Barkai and others using Uniper Care technology. (photo credit: SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER)
Head of Sheba Medical Center's telemedicine program Dr. Galia Barkai and others using Uniper Care technology.
(photo credit: SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER)
Tel Aviv start-up Uniper Care, which specializes in providing medical and emotional assistance to the elderly confined at home, is assisting the 11 patients quarantined at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, in Ramat Gan amid fears they contracted the coronavirus.
For the Israelis on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, returning home after two weeks in confinement in their cabins docked in Yokohama Port did not mark the end of their ordeal: Immediately upon landing at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday, they were transferred to an isolation ward at Sheba for two weeks of quarantine from each other and their families. Similarly, their contact with medical staff is reduced to a minimum.
Established in 2016, Uniper Care offers a device that transforms any television into an interactive station. Besides having access to a wide range of contents users may participate in video calls, classes and group activities, fostering a sense of community and avoiding a sense of isolation and helplessness.
“We provide a health and wellness service to allow older adults and all sorts of patients to remain healthy, independent, and socially and physically active,” Idan Pinchas, head of operations at the company, told The Jerusalem Post.
Pinchas said Uniper Care was already working with Sheba to launch a project with some of their departments, including the psychiatric and the telemedicine departments, when the medical center contacted them ahead of the arrival of the Israelis from Japan.
“Sheba said that they wanted us to provide their staff with the ability to connect with the patients both in one-on-one and group sessions to minimize their exposure,” he said. “We installed our devices in all of their rooms.”
The support offered through the company’s technology includes psychological assistance and gym classes. The platform can also connect to WhatsApp, allowing patients to talk to their families on the TV screen.
User-friendly, the device is easily accessible on the screen with a remote, even for those less than tech-savvy.
“Just a few minutes ago, we facilitated the first group session with all the patients,” Pinchas told the Post.
Group sessions can include activities like yoga or music classes.
“Uniper is a unique platform that has allowed us to connect seamlessly between the patients in the quarantine complex, their doctors and families,” Dr. Galia Barkai, head of Sheba Medical Center’s telemedicine program, told the Post.
“We did not imagine the powerful impact that this provides for everyone involved,” she said. “The difference here is that Uniper creates a human dynamic with the doctor around the clock, builds confidence with the patient and creates a human bridge with the families as well. It’s a telemedicine technology that injects positive energy into this complex operation that we are involved with.”
For regular users of the Uniper device, the interactive aspect of the technology reduces the sense of social isolation especially acute among those who spend long periods by themselves, such as elderly populations.
“Several independent studies have confirmed the effectiveness of our service,” Pinchas said.
According to data provided by the company, 83% of the users report that they feel less lonely and 96% that their quality of life has improved.
Pinchas said Uniper usually works with large health systems that provide the technology to their patients and that thousands of people in Israel, the US and Europe are already using their product.
Meanwhile, more than 180 Israelis, many of them schoolchildren, have been put in quarantine after having been in contact with South Koreans tourists who visited Israel earlier this month and who tested positive to the coronavirus after returning home.
“I think that this project with Sheba shows that this service is very needed in this type of crisis, and we are ready to help with any other request from the Health Ministry or other institutions,” Pinchas said. “Unfortunately, I do not believe that these people will be the last potential carries of the virus in Israel. Solutions need to be found.”
The coronavirus originated in China, where more than 76,000 cases and 2,442 deaths have been reported as of Sunday. According to the World Health Organization, the virus has spread to 28 countries. The WHO has warned that the window of opportunity to prevent the contagion from becoming a pandemic is rapidly closing.