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Israel Shares Anti-pandemic Know-how with Global Community
An Israeli woman checks her Hamagen phone app on March 29 in the coastal city of Netanya. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel Shares Anti-pandemic Know-how with Global Community

Together with Health Ministry, non-profit organization publishes directory of more than 100 companies

The start-up nation is at it again. Israel is burnishing its reputation as a powerhouse for technological innovation by sharing coronavirus-fighting tools with any nation that wants them, free of charge.

Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), an Israeli nonprofit that seeks to bolster Israel’s hi-tech eco-system, recently released a directory with more than 100 digital platforms by over 70 companies.

“When coronavirus started, we anticipated that technology would play a major role in helping medical teams and decision-makers around the globe contain the spread of the virus,” Eyal Goldman, director of communications for SNC, told The Media Line.

“As the crisis evolved, governments, health institutions and organizations around the globe asked to see what the start-up nation and Israeli innovative technology had to offer,” he explained, “so we launched #coronavirus directory on SNC’s Finder platform.”

According to Goldman, 80% of the digital services listed in the directory are in the health and medical technology fields, including remote diagnostics and treatment. The directory also has programs that tackle social challenges stemming from the crisis, including off-site communications and education. In addition, it has been widened to areas like cyber security and privacy.

One state-of-the art solution is a service called Hamagen (The Shield), developed by Israeli authorities in conjunction with tech experts and specialists in the country’s development community.

The phone app pairs one’s location data for the past 14 days with the known whereabouts of people in the Health Ministry’s database of those known to have been infected with coronavirus. It notifies the user if he or she crossed paths with infected people. The user can then voluntarily self-quarantine and notify the ministry.

While some people have privacy concerns, Goldman says the app was designed with discretion in mind.

”Users’ personal and location data remains on their mobile devices and is not available to others. The operators of the app cannot trace infected individuals without their knowledge,” he explained.

“The user can give his or her data voluntarily and can stop doing so at any time,” he continued. “All the data is saved in the device and is not transmitted to any server or any cloud platform, so there is no issue of privacy here.”

The app was downloaded by 1.5 million Israelis in the first three days it was available, and some 50,000 users reported a territorial match with a known coronavirus case, according to the ministry.

“The success of this application is only when people download [it] on a massive scale,” Goldman said.

As such, the ministry announced this week that governments throughout the world were invited to utilize Hamagen’s open-code technology without charge, with help available for putting the technology in place. The app has already been translated into Arabic, Russian, French and English.

A ministry official who declined to be named told The Media Line that representatives from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Australia and Chile had already been in contact.

Another platform in SNC’s directory is the brainchild of Diagnostic Robotics.

Already in use by the ministry as well as insurance companies and other Israeli healthcare stakeholders, the app lets professionals send coronavirus surveys via text messages, allowing people to assess any symptoms they might have by comparing them to known COVID-19 indicators.

When patients respond, their data is used to create an epidemiological map that can show decision-makers real-time “hot spots,” enabling them to take steps to slow the spread. The information also allows authorities to forecast the virus’s movement for preparedness purposes.

The survey has already been sent to a quarter of the Israeli population, with a response rate of 80%.

According to Dr. Kira Radinsky, a Diagnostic Robotics co-founder, the data can help improve the medical care a patient receives.

“The system provides powerful predictive analytics models: differential diagnoses, triage scores and a recommendation of the necessary diagnostic tests,” she told The Media Line.

“It directs the patient to the most relevant medical setting supported by the [patient’s] physician, whether it be the emergency department, urgent-care clinic or remote consultation [venue],” she said. “[It also] minimizes unnecessary emergency department visits and consultations while expediting treatment time… and increasing satisfaction.”

The platform was recently redesigned for the coronavirus pandemic.

“For the past month, we have been working day and night to put the finishing touches on a digital platform that is a one-stop shop for managing the disease,” Radinsky said. “We have been adapting the COVID protocol based on CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance and data received from Italy and South Korea.”

The collected data also can help professionals stay informed.

“We see strong correlation of losing [the senses of] taste and smell, as was suggested early on in medical papers coming out of Italy,” she said.

Radinsky adds that artificial intelligence (AI) can play a crucial role in fighting pandemics by addressing a compounded problem: the shortage of doctors.

“In non-pandemic times, there is a shortage of 60,000 to 90,000 physicians in the US alone,” she stated.

“Emergency rooms today are already over-flooded, but with the growing population, by 2030, 3.8 billion people will not have access to primary care, reaching a point where ERs won’t be able to [cope with] the amount of people,” she said.

“Pandemics, as such, show the gaps in our ability to treat people on a one-to-one basis. We just cannot train so many doctors,” she explained.

“Digital health solutions that can help triage patients automatically will expand each doctor’s capability to treat thousands of patients, where some medical flows will be semi-automated [so that these people] meet the doctor virtually or physically only when actually needed,” she said.

Radinsky notes that her company has been approached by government representatives from countries such as the US and Brazil.

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