Israel's cabinet today approved a NIS 922 million budget for a national digital health project. The plan includes a number of elements, the combination of which is designed to make Israel a digital health power and improve the health of its residents, and of the entire world. Implementation of this ambitious plan is more difficult than simply announcing it and budgeting the money, but it has considerable potential.
The plan has several elements. The first is upgrading infrastructure for medical digital information in Israel, so that any researcher in higher education or industry can easily access this information through inquiries (for example, "What characterizes the blood and genetic tests of smokers who do not develop cancer?"). In order to do this, information from all sources (health funds, hospitals, and private clinics) must be integrated, the information must be severed from characteristics that can identify a specific person, and laws must be passed allowing research to be conducted using unidentified information, even without requesting the patients' consent.
The second element is strengthening the digital health industry in Israel by providing incentives for founding startups, cooperative ventures between startups and medical agencies, investment in startups in Israel by international companies, and training personnel in the sector. NIS 223 million will be allocated for this aspect of the plan.
Other elements in the plan were designed to add additional information to the database, including a plan to establish a bank of blood samples and tissue samples (biopsies) and a plan for a genetic information database. These two databases will connect data from patients only with their consent. Development of large parts of the plan presented today has already begun in recent years in the field, or in the framework of individual government programs. For example, databases from all the medical entities have already undergone a process of integration managed by the Ministry of Health in recent years, although some entities assert that the system does not yet contain enough information, among other things due to the desire of hospitals to keep most of their information secret.
Maccabi Health Services has already begun working on the assembling of a bank of samples of blood and tissue, while at the same time, Mosaic, a government enterprise, was founded to collect genetic information, thereby helping to base the government's plans on existing structures.
Despite field initiatives, government involvement is critical, because far more medical benefit can result from connecting all of the information: clinical data (which diseases the patients have suffered from during their lives), genetic data, blood sample data, and images from medical imaging.
In the future, it may also be possible to add behavioral data from the patient's mobile devices and from wearable devices that monitor health in real time.
Israel's advantage: A lot of available information
The venture constitutes an opportunity for Israel, which has a large quantity of relevant information for digital health ventures: specialization in medical devices, image processing (knowledge from a security source), algorithms and information (cyber) protection. What is unique about Israel is that most of its medical information is computerized in a relatively small number of entities, and a patient can be definitely identified through his or her ID number.
The fact that in effect, Israel already has digital medical records is the government's answer to the possibility of information being leaked. According to the government, patients in the the research database will be unidentifiable and protected with special cyber protection, with government support, compared with the current medical agencies, which are identified, and are protected through the known methods of medical information protection, but not beyond that.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 25, 2018
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