Coronavirus: Necessity is the mother of digital healthcare acceleration

Approximately 580 digital health companies are operating across Israel today, raising a record $662 million in 69 deals in 2019.

Sanara Ventures CEO Assaf Barnea (photo credit: SHAHAR TAMIR)
Sanara Ventures CEO Assaf Barnea
(photo credit: SHAHAR TAMIR)
Forced to adopt innovative methods to monitor patients from a safe distance, the coronavirus outbreak has caused a paradigm shift in the mindset of healthcare systems worldwide.
If digital healthcare innovation and telemedicine was only starting to penetrate hospitals and medical practices prior to the outbreak, COVID-19 has proved that its implementation is needed immediately.
During an early February meeting with Assaf Barnea, the chief executive officer of Philips and Teva-backed healthcare investment platform Sanara Ventures, the seasoned entrepreneur shared his forecast that digital solutions will dramatically change the way care is delivered in the next decade or so. Two months later, Barnea has halved the expected timeline.
"Digital health is materializing in front of our eyes, it is a quantum leap - instead of this happening in five, 10 or 15 years, this will now happen in two to five years globally," said Barnea, who enjoyed a 14-year professional basketball career in the United States and Israel prior to entering the innovation arena.
"Hospitals will now enter into artificial intelligence, analytics and remote monitoring of patients. Only major surgery will take place in hospitals in due course. We will be able to speak about the days before the coronavirus and the days after."
Ra’anana-based Sanara Ventures, which is seeking investments for its new Sanara Capital fund focusing on artificial intelligence-related solutions in medicine, currently has a portfolio of 16 companies. Some investors who were contemplating other technological fields are now revisiting opportunities offered by digital health, Barnea said.
Approximately 580 digital health companies are operating across Israel today, raising a record $662 million in 69 deals in 2019. In early 2018, the government approved a NIS 1b. ($290m.) five-year national digital health plan to accelerate technological development.
"It is not just about telemedicine, but also in terms of the need to analyze big data. Let it be data from Singapore, South Korea, the UK or Brazil, regarding whatever is helping patients. We need to see the pandemic through the eyes of the researchers," said Barnea, who also serves as chairman of the Israel Export Institute's life sciences board and as a business consultant to the World Bank.
"The need to share data and knowledge between healthcare ecosystems is exactly digital health. Instead of taking an electronic medical record here and there, we can analyze 300,000 or even 3 million patients."
The Export Institute is current building a catalog of "dozens and dozens" of Israeli companies offering solutions related to the crisis, Barnea said, ranging from companies producing ventilation machines to remote monitoring and disease management.
The catalog will be launched in partnership with the Economy Ministry and through the Foreign Trade Administration's commercial attachés worldwide, securing the leading role of Israeli innovators in the global transition to digital health.
Barnea said "tremendous interest" has been shown recently in Sanara portfolio company MyHomeDoc, where he also serves as chairman. The digital health smartphone add-on developed by the company, which enables nine primary care tests for patients at home, is nearing US FDA approval and could be rolled out in Israel within the next couple of months.
An in-built pulse oximeter, stethoscope and thermometer are particularly relevant for the monitoring of coronavirus patients, whether located in hospital, quarantine hotels or, ideally, at home.
"The leap to digital health is inevitable and everybody now understands it. It's a must-do transition, not a nice-to-have," Barnea said. "Once there is an internet infrastructure in hospitals in Africa and other places, we shall see the digital health leap like we've seen in cellular phones."
As hospitals are unable to integrate thousands of different solutions entering the market, Barnea says the entrepreneurs set to win are those who create holistic solutions "that can address multiple medical diseases and be integrated easily."