The first telemedicine conference to be hosted by an Israeli hospital is bringing together more than 200 healthcare professionals at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer on Monday.
“This meeting is about the future of medicine,” said Dr. Galia Barkai, the head of telemedicine services at Sheba.
Barkai said there are not enough hospital beds or medical providers in Israel now to accommodate Israel’s growing population. Telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology – can help alleviate that situation. Moreover, Barkai said, sick people often prefer to be at home.
Other modern technologies can also be part of the solution.
Barkai said the digital era has ushered in a revolution in the way hospitals treat their patients, both inside and outside their medical facilities. Using various new technologies to keep patients healthier is at the heart of Sheba’s innovative healthcare metamorphosis, led by a center it calls the ARC, an acronym for accelerate, redesign, collaborate.
Some of the top game-changers within the hospital’s digital health/telemedicine ecosystem will speak at Monday’s conference. Among the presenters will be Dr. Robert Klempfner, head of Sheba’s Cardiac Rehab Center and the scientific director of ARC, who will talk about new methods for treating cardiac rehabilitation patients.
The standard cardiac rehabilitation outpatient program includes a tailored exercise program, education and support in making lifestyle changes. Patients visit Sheba twice weekly for in-person consultation and monitoring, all of which is covered by health insurance. However, Klempfner said, the standard model not ideal. Currently, Sheba sees 900 cardiac rehabilitation patients per month, and is at capacity. Additionally, visiting the hospital twice weekly greatly interferes with patients’ lives.
“Patients have to go back to work, they have a family and many other issues that make it difficult to arrive at Sheba twice a week,” Klempfner said.
These challenges led him and his team to launch Sheba’s cardiac telemedicine program. Patients are given a smartwatch with a remote care platform designed by Datos Health, a technology company that strives to help healthcare organizations manage patients remotely at a fraction of the current costs. The watch is loaded with a special application co-developed by Sheba and Datos for cardiac rehabilitation patients.
Participants in the program are given a personalized program, designed by the patient’s cardiologist and nurses, and uploaded to the smartwatch application. The patient is assigned specific daily tasks and a series of evaluations of those tasks and various other health identifiers, such as heart rate, exercise and answers to a standard depression questionnaire. The data is the transmitted to Sheba’s command and control center from anywhere in the world.
Currently, about 100 patients are enrolled in the program, which is fully reimbursed by the national insurance program.
“Israel is one of the only states in the world where insurance reimburses tele-cardiac rehabilitation like regular rehabilitation,” Klempfner said.
He described a movement in Israel into the era of digital health and attempts to redesign medicine rather than using digital tools “just to improve processes.”
“Our system needs significant improvement, and we firmly believe technology is the major driver for revolution,” Klempfner said.
Change will come through a “confluence of technologies,” he explained. “Artificial intelligence is one major thing, but it is also surgical robots... [or] a new pill that transmits information when it comes into contact with gastric acid, so doctors know if patient took it.”
The technologies will also include virtual nurses to greet patients, smartphones and wearables that monitor patient activities, and CAT scans and MRIs being read by computers that use machine-learning techniques.
Klempfner said Sheba has invested a significant amount of money to bring Israel forward in this arena, and that the telemedicine conference is part of those efforts.
“We want to design hospital of future,” he said. “What is the hospital of the future? This is not just about architecture, but what will be the rules of the future hospital and if some care can be transferred home in what we call hospitals at home.
“We are the start-up nation,” Klempfner continued. “So, why not be the start-up nation for health?”