Meuhedet: Innovating Israel’s health industry

"While we provide medical services to approximately 13 percent of Israel’s population, we are actually able to influence many more directly."

 Sigal Regev, CEO of Meuhedet (photo credit: INBAL MARMARI)
Sigal Regev, CEO of Meuhedet
(photo credit: INBAL MARMARI)

“Advancing the health industry and introducing innovative technologies are of the utmost importance while considering the future of Israel’s medical system,” Sigal Regev, CEO of Meuhedet recently said.

This vision has been the driving force behind her nearly 30-year career in the health industry and what led her to become the first female head of one of Israel’s Kupot Holim (HMO).

Regev sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the state of health services in Israel, the dawn of unprecedented medical advances in the digital age, and the future of medical care.

“I came into the position when we were in a deep financial crisis and then shortly afterwards the coronavirus pandemic erupted,” she said. “These were very difficult years, but the global pandemic did something to help advance and prioritize the medical field.”

Regev, who was born in the Negev, in Israel’s Southern periphery, studied mathematics, economics and computer science before starting her career in the health industry. A trailblazer in the field, she recognized the need for a digital transformation of the industry and the incorporation of innovative medical solutions early on in her career.

“The strategic vision has been to grow and improve our services by introducing new models, new products, and new processes that will provide an unprecedented level of service that we need coupled with creating a strong medical backbone,” she said. 

One of the main facets of this vision has been the implementation of digital services and hybrid medicine into daily life - something greatly accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“People are born with us and they die with us and so we need to see our clients and everything that they do, their lives, their medical care as a process,” she added. 

Regev said she believes this outlook has proven to be the right strategy in providing services for the nearly 1.3 million Israelis at Meuhedet.

“I see Meuhedet as a kupa that people want to join because we offer a high level of service and we are able to bring real innovation,” she said. “There are a lot of startups in the health field and Meuhedet will usually be the first to incorporate them.”

According to Regev, Meuhedet’s relatively small size, as the third largest HMO in Israel, has provided it with the flexibility to innovate and “disrupt” the market, inspiring the entire medical system to move forward and introduce an innovative approach to healthcare. 

“While we provide medical services to approximately 13 percent of Israel’s population, we are actually able to influence many more directly, by introducing new technologies and services and that cause the other kupot to mimic us,” she said. 

Regev said that Meuhedet was the first to launch a digital platform, as the others soon followed suit. Now, she has spearheaded two new initiatives: digital pregnancy and post-natal care and holistic treatment for special population groups and chronic patients. 

“We are currently launching a new pregnancy and after birth platform which will allow pregnant women the ability to receive much of the care they need from the comfort of their own home,” she said.  

Additionally, Meuhedet is launching a new model that “will allow the patient to become more involved in their personal medical care.”

“The model includes alerts and indications to both the doctors and the patients to ensure that people with chronic illnesses will receive a tailor-made program so that the outcome of care will be much more meaningful and effective,” she said.

Regev added that while she hopes these new innovations in medical care will also “disrupt” the market and cause the larger HMOs to adopt these new practices as well, her desire is to see Meuhedet grow to become a larger influencer. 

Today, some 13% of Israel’s population belongs to Meuhedet and the kupa is especially dominant in the Jerusalem area. However, Regev said her aim is to see this number grow to some 20%. 

“When you have two big HMOs and two smaller ones, we can disrupt the market but our impact is only on a small percent of the population,” she said. 

“The state should incorporate an advantage for the smaller kupot,” she added. “This will allow us to grow so that we can reach a significant stage and there can be real competition and influence in the market.”

Though in looking to the future, Regev said the next main and pressing challenge is to prepare for Israel’s aging population.  

“We need to ensure that we extend life but also extend good health,” she said. “If we look at Israel’s population, soon one out of five people will be elderly, that is about 2 million elderly people, twice than what we have today and so we will need twice as many funds and resources.” 

While there are numerous possibilities on the horizon, Regev cautioned that without a government plan and support of the healthcare industry progress will remain limited.

“During the coronavirus pandemic Israel, like the rest of the world, really poured funds into the health system, but now we need a very specific plan to ensure that people will reach old age in good health,” she said. “So far, Israel is not prepared.”

According to Regev, the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry need to develop a long-term strategy to ensure that Israel is prepared for an aging population. 

“Israel needs to deal with prevention, address health issues such as obesity, stress, sleep, and smoking now,” she said. “We need to ensure that we provide people with the tools for achieving good health while also ensuring that we provide all the services - a one stop-shop - for the elderly.”

From nursing care to geriatric doctors and psychiatrists, Regev said Israel is facing a shortage. 

“Today there is no model for effectively measuring the medical system,” she said. “There is a lot of data we rely on – life expectancy, number of doctors, infant mortality and so on – and according to this data Israel is doing very well.” 

Regev said that by these measurements, according to the OECD, Israel is ranked in “a very good position compared to other countries in the world,” though she said there is a vast shortage of doctors. 

“At the same time though, this doesn’t really measure the level of service in the system – the length of time to receive an appointment, the standard of medical care, innovation in the system, the right personnel in the system,” she said. 

“Still Israel is a relatively young country with a relatively young population, and it knows its challenges, so I hope that there will be a new method of measurement in the near future,” she added.

Yet, despite the medical staff shortages and the lack of preparedness, Regev said that she remains “very optimistic.”

“With the right leadership and the right strategy, we can be there big time - we have all the resources and the minds and the ability to reach this goal,” she said.