Israeli tech collaborates on Covid-19 challenges

Laboratory testing for coronavirus  / Photo: Ministry of Health, PR

As Covid-19 rages, companies with solutions meet hospitals with problems on digital health community platform HealthIL.

Medical centers transport a variety of items between them each day: drugs go from pharmacies to inpatient wards, tests results from wards to laboratories. Humans or vehicles may transport items both within the center as well as on vast campuses covering tens and hundreds of acres.

The Covid-19 crisis made clear that, to improve the quality of medical care for patients and reduce exposure to the virus, there is a need to accelerate and streamline the transportation processes. A possible solution to the problem was soon found. Two drone companies - Flytrex and Kronos - have been awarded a government-sponsored tender by NA'AMA (the initiative for Israel Urban Air Mobility) and will soon launch a pilot program for Covid-19 test and medication deliveries at the Dorot Geriatric Center in Netanya.

NA’AMA’s sponsors are Ayalon Highways Co., the Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the National Initiative of the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Administration at the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Israel Innovation Authority (IAA).

However, some of the credit for swiftly connecting the drone companies that succeeded in the NA'AMA tender with potential health care clients - all the way to the pilot phase - goes to HeallthIL, a joint venture of the Israel Innovation Institute (an NGO), the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and the Ministry of Social Equality (Digital Israel). HeallthIL specializes in bridging and connecting between organizations and startups offering innovative technologies.

At the height of the first Covid-19 wave, HeallthIL launched a project to connect startups to the healthcare system: a website presenting the health system's "challenges", with the expectation that responses would come from startups and companies convinced they had the answers. These "challenges" were, in a sense, mini-tenders - announcements in which entities in need of a technological solution presented their problem, and awaited inquiries from parties that believed their technology could meet the challenge solve it.

About a month and a half after its initial launch, on April 12th, the project was upgraded, and HeallthIL re-launched, with support from the Government Companies Authority, as a platform to promote innovation that can be described as a "professional social network."

83 collaborations so far

The new platform now has 36 health organizations, six government agencies and 134 companies that previously had not operated in the healthcare sphere. In all, 429 solutions were submitted to 65 challenges, leading to 273 connections made between challengers and solution-providers, which, in turn, have resulted in 83 collaborations with healthcare organizations.

The project that connected the drone companies with hospitals was not alone. "We issued a call for proposals addressing certain disinfection and protection problems, and received 54 proposals. After screening and examining of the companies, in less than two weeks, four companies have already begun pilots in hospitals," says HealthIL executive director Yael Ophir. Another solution he says is currently under review is "an autonomous robot, originally from the world of construction, and intended for cleaning unusual surfaces at varying heights - like handles and push-buttons."

<p>Ophir adds: "Because, in the coronavirus era, the demands and challenges facing the medical institutions are more of an operational and engineering nature, we’ve appealed for proven technologies in the fields of transport, agriculture, food, security and more; our focus has not been on healthcare technologies particularly."

The QMarkets engine

The collaboration and innovation platform was provided by Israeli start-up QMarkets, which specializes in developing systems that encourage and generate innovation within very large organizations of tens of thousands of employees spread across dozens and hundreds of branches worldwide. One such named customer in Israel is Israel Chemicals (TASE: ICL).

The initiative to develop a government-sponsored innovation and collaboration platform came to Ophir from QMarkets CEO Noam Danon. "Noam approached us at the very start, and said he’d be willing to make a large investment in doing a pilot project. They also realized it wasn’t something they usually do, and that they would have to adapt."

Matching between the healthcare organizations and innovative technologies offered by startups is at the heart of the HealthIL community, as well as the six other communities operating within ComNetWork, the Innovation Communities Network at the Ministry of Economy & Industry, managed by vice director-general Naama Kaufman-Fass. These communities include EcoMotion for smart transportation, GrowingIL for agricultural technology, and communities for foodtech, smart cities, construction-tech and fintech.

The health and transportation communities written up in this article, operate as franchisees of an NGO called the Israel Innovation Institute. About seven months ago, the Ministry of Economy & Industry issued a tender for operating the seven existing communities. In addition, the ministry intends to establish seven new communities in new areas of industry: space, energy, water and cybersecurity, as well as new cross-disciplinary innovation communities: "Creativity as a key to increasing economic productivity," "Innovation in services and solutions for people with disabilities", and "Education, learning and work - Human capital development in a changing employment reality."

The QMarkets platform enhances a process that was, to date, conducted through personal contacts, conferences and events. The platform encompasses all aspects of the healthcare organizations - from hospitals and health funds, to technology companies, defense industries, and other agencies - that use it to manage relationships with one another and monitor progress.

Yaniv Edri, Security and Communications Industries Coordinator at the Government Companies Authority, who took part in launching the venture together with Government Companies Authority director Yaakov Quint, explains how the project came into being. "As the crisis was breaking, defense companies like Israel Aerospace Industries (TASE: IAI) and Rafael began receiving a flood of inquiries from health officials who were trying, in any way possible, to connect with their R&D personnel for help in solving technology problems.

"That gave rise to a forum which met every few days where the various needs of the system were raised. A few weeks after the forum was created, we began to contact other entities that identify needs, like such as MAFAT - the Ministry of Defense Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D). We identified additional entities, such as the control center at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, which was also engaged in the same activity of matching needs with solutions.

"The platform has already helped hospital administrators realize they are not alone. If, up till now, they would wake up in the morning knowing they needed a solution but with no way to find one, or making do with what they had, they now know there are others healthcare agencies with needs similar to their own, and that solutions have already been found for these needs."

Globes: How will these connections help as we face the second wave?

"We’ve created a vast infrastructure of players who simply interact with one another, like a very sophisticated social network. In the next wave, it will shorten timetables and learning curves - which we did amazingly well during the first wave - because all the players will already be inside.

"There will be new needs, but the foundation and the capabilities already exist within the platform. The platform is also significant because it brings the country’s central region to the periphery where hospitals and health fund have fewer capabilities and therefore less opportunity to obtain the best, most successful solutions. The platform gives them access."

Yarden Nevo, Deputy Director at Soroka Medical Center, which also is participating in the platform, provides a user’s perspective, saying it allows the hospital to "make more relevant connections in a shorter time, and helps us to be more effective and meaningful in addressing the challenges of the coronavirus era, and in general."

How it works

Under each challenge listed in the system, the various solutions on offer are located on a timeline. Clicking on a solution leads to a page with details that also indicates the offer’s progress status - from "submission" mode, through "initial evaluation", "adaptation to organization", "collaboration under review", and "commencing collaboration".

The solutions include, for example, "handheld 3D printed video laryngoscope", "digital stethoscope for evaluating Covid-19 patients by analyzing lung resonance", or "user-independent eyewear measurement service". The platform, as mentioned, is not only for companies in the medical field, but for any company offering a solution that the healthcare system can use.

One of the interesting features is a kind of radar that graphically presents a map of the various initiatives according to their sub-category, such as "diagnostics and identification", "quarantine healthcare" or "operations and logistics" as well as according to development status: "Idea", "Under Development", "Adaptation Required "," Pilot" or "Implementation / Installation ".

Not just during a crisis

Will the healthcare system’s collaboration marketplace model be duplicated in other areas as well? Ophir says the project "has proven itself as a pilot and we continue to leverage it elsewhere. In a few weeks, we’ll be examining whether it’s relevant to the transport and agriculture communities that we manage."

Ofir explained that "While the concept of challenges and solutions seems obvious, not all communities can use this approach. Still, as long as a community can work this way - regardless of whether it is health, transport, agriculture, cyber, energy or food - it is viable. In fact, some local authorities have already set up their own challenge sites."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 14, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Laboratory testing for coronavirus  / Photo: Ministry of Health, PR
Laboratory testing for coronavirus / Photo: Ministry of Health, PR
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