Yoel Har-Even: Creating connections between Sheba Medical Center, abroad

Har-Even has a lot to say about this country’s medical establishment and what can be expected in the future. Read more below

 Sheba campus (photo credit:  courtesy Sheba Medical Center))
Sheba campus
(photo credit: courtesy Sheba Medical Center))

Yoel Har-Even is the director of the International Division & Resource Development of the Sheba Medical Center. As such, he is in charge of all of Sheba’s overseas activities, as well as its humanitarian and philanthropic involvements. 

This is a very responsible position as Sheba Medical Center has been ranked as one of the top 10 worlds best hospitals by Newsweek magazine for four consecutive years. In that regard, Har-Even is in the position to do much good from a Jewish perspective. One of the major mitzvot in Judaism is caring for the sick and helping those in need. Those two elements are combined in Har-Even’s work.

 Yoel Har-Even (credit:  courtesy Sheba Medical Center)) Yoel Har-Even (credit: courtesy Sheba Medical Center))

Relief missions

Sheba’s main task is to provide medical care for the citizens of Israel. In addition, it has a fund of NIS 500 million (approximately $150 million) to assist people in countries that do not have the means to pay for what in many cases could be life-saving treatment. 

Har-Even has participated in medical relief missions organized by Sheba or the IDF. He is very proud of his involvement in these missions, some of which were under his command. These medical missions have provided assistance to people in war zones or areas affected by natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

Some of the humanitarian aid that Sheba has provided include the following: a field hospital in Ukraine in 2022; aid for victims of the tsunami in the Philippines in 2013; a relief mission to areas shattered by the earthquake in Turkey in 1999; and a medical mission in the wake of the massacre in Rwanda in 1992. 

Har-Even’s career

Besides being in charge of relief missions and philanthropic endeavors, Har-Even is also the director of Sheba’s Global Patient Services. It is a medical tourism service whereby non-Israelis can receive medical services or treatment at Sheba for a fee. Due to Sheba’s reputation for its medical excellence, this is a very popular program.  

Har-Even has been involved in Israel’s medical establishment from a young age. Conscripted into the Israeli army at 18, he served as a front line combat medic. He served in the IDF for 28 years, rising through the ranks to lieutenant colonel and assistant to the IDF’s surgeon general.

He is also very much involved in the research aspects of medicine. He has BA in nursing from the Hebrew University, an MA in health administration from Ben-Gurion University, an MA in neuroscience from Tel Aviv University; and a PhD from Ben-Gurion that focused on studying the performance and outcomes of large health management systems. With such a wide educational background and extensive practical experience, he is an expert in medical issues in general and the local medical scene in particular.

The medical establishment’s current situation 

Har-Even has a lot to say about this country’s medical establishment and what can be expected in the future.

“Israel has one of the world’s most efficient and professional health services,” he says. “But compared to the other countries of the OECD, the percentage of GDP devoted to medical services is at the low end of the scale. However, despite the perennial shortage of funds, the end result of our medical service is excellent. Israel has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world -- well above 80; one of lowest infant mortality rates; and the flow of medical information is excellent – that is, the ease and time it takes to transfer information among the various medical organs. In addition, the level of technology in our medical establishments is very high, as well as the gradual digitalization of medical processes.“

Looking ahead

Har-Even believes that even though Israel has an excellent medical establishment, it will not be easy to maintain that high quality in the future. The challenges are great. There are limited financial resources, and the population is growing rapidly due to the high birth rate (nearly 3% a year compared to 1.6% in other OECD countries). 

Our high life expectancy also poses big challenges. As people get older, the body is much less resistant to disease, as the immune system weakens. Consequently, there is a greater need for medical treatments and the facilities in which to provide that treatment. Israel does not have sufficient resources to fulfill the needs of the expected growth in population. Furthermore, there is a constant shortage of professional medical staff.

It will be very difficult to build more hospitals and increase the  number of medical staff to fill these hospitals, even if there is the desire and the financial resources to build them. During the past forty years, only one new hospital was built in Israel -- Asuta Ashdod.

Har-Even believes it is very unlikely that the number of new hospitals will increase or that there will be enough trained staff to meet the needs of the growing population. He believes that technology is the solution to the problem of lack of facilities in the face of an ever-increasing population.

 Ukraine Field Hospital, which was commanded (credit: Yoel Har-Even) Ukraine Field Hospital, which was commanded (credit: Yoel Har-Even)

He envisions a technology that can free resources by being able to diagnose various maladies very quickly and make the healing process faster and easier by developing new medicines that can minimize the need for hospitalization. And he foresees the development of artificial intelligence technologies that can achieve great advances in telemedicine.