Ruining the Dream - a troubling look at Israel's health care system

“We have the best doctors in the world, but they can’t make their dreams come true."

 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
“We have the best doctors in the world, but they can’t make their dreams come true. They take care of computers and do not see the eyes of their patients,” said Prof. Joshua (Shuki) Shemer on Wednesday at the Maariv Business Conference. “The long-term solutions are increasing the budget of the healthcare system by NIS 10 billion and development of infrastructure.

“I am not speaking about futuristic and new technologies, which are the future of the state, but rather about life,” said Shemer, chairman of the board of Assuta Medical Centers.

Discussing the coronavirus, the most troubling issue of the day, Shemer said, “I think that the coronavirus crisis is just beginning. It is an ongoing crisis. We have heard that it has already reached Europe. I think that the Ministry of Health is working well and is addressing this crisis.”

Urging both prevention and containment, he said: “The isolation policy is the ‘Iron Dome’ of the health system. This is the right policy. We are good in emergencies. I think the main thing that we as citizens need to do is to listen to the Ministry of Health’s directives. The Ministry meets every day, does a situation assessment, and puts people in isolation when needed.”

How long will it take for the crisis to be resolved? Shemer believes it will take a number of months. “Development of a vaccine will take between eight and 12 months. In the meantime, this crisis will continue to unfold. Every day has its surprises.”

Shemer also spoke about compassion. “Compassion is empathizing with the sufferer,” he said.  “Everyone speaks about the old woman in the hospital corridor who has become a national icon. A medical student told me about an 85-year-old woman lying in the corridor. He asked for a screen to provide privacy for her, but there were none available. He approached the woman and told her he would look for a screen before examining her. The woman replied that she did not need it. “I am used to people undressing me in front of everyone,” she told the doctor. She explained that she was humiliated and even worse, accustomed to the humiliation.

Shemer presented three main reasons for increasing health care spending – population growth and aging, innovative medical technologies (including drugs), and increased life expectancy. “In Israel, the number of people over 75 will double in 10 years. The population is aging, which is a good thing, but it brings comorbidities. “There are new technologies that are quite expensive.”

Shemer said that the health system suffers from a chronic shortage of resources and a lack of long-term planning. “The immediate-term solutions are raising the standards for doctors and specialists, especially for the internal medicine wards,” he said, adding, “We have the best doctors in the world, but they can’t make their dreams come true. They take care of computers and don’t see the eyes of the patients. A resident who works on his own works 375 hours per month. There are 500 doctors sitting at home without work. The long-term solutions are to increase the health system budget by NIS 10 billion, develop infrastructure (beds in hospitals) and manpower, promote home hospitalization, remote medicine, artificial intelligence and digital health.”

Shemer also said that “There is a holistic solution to the current conflict of interest, in which the Ministry of Health is the owner of the hospitals, which is to establish a state hospital authority for operating all hospitals in Israel.
He concluded, “the health system must be recognized as a necessary component of national resilience, increasing national investment in health and allow the aged to grow old with dignity. Remember, compassion costs money.”