Philips Israel targets big data and home treatment

Dr. Efrat Shefer Photo: Shlomo Shoham
Dr. Efrat Shefer Photo: Shlomo Shoham

Philips Israel president Dr. Efrat Shefer: We want to bring health into the home and expand in the diagnostic and treatment sector to prevention.

A drastic change has occurred in international company Philips in recent years. The company, once identified with television sets and shaving equipment, has left these sectors completely and replaced them with activity in the health industry.

"We've gotten rid of television and consumer products, and in the end, even lighting. The entire company is focusing on health. It is the only large company in our competitive environment that has focused all of its attention on this field," says Dr. Efrat Shefer, president of Philips Israel and 
GM, Philips Imaging Clinical Applications & Platforms, Healthcare Informatics, which has 400 employees worldwide. "Other companies that have developed imaging products for the health industry, such as GE and Siemens, still work in other fields or do their health business through subsidiaries."

Philips has added two new areas to its imaging business: big data and home treatment, which are related to the consumer electronics activity formerly identified with the company.

"We want to bring health into the home and expand in the diagnostic and treatment sector to prevention," Shefer says. "These two areas rely to a large extent on big data, and there's a feeling that information will play an even larger role in them in the future. We plan to connect all of the home solutions to a network that will become smart. Everyone agrees that the revolution will come from this direction, but to a large degree, we're already there."

One of the examples is line of air purification products for asthma patients that has become popular in countries with severe air pollution. "If they are connected to a network, the air pollution in a given area can be mapped, so that we can see where it begins and how it spreads and whether it always comes from the same place and at the same time of day. This is very important information for our users. It's an example of a product that developed into a solution."

"An overload of information doesn't help doctors"

Another interesting example is a Philips cancer treatment project that seeks to improve a tumor board, in which doctors from different disciplines and hospitals meet to discuss a patient's situation. Today, doctors come to the forum with scraps of paper containing medical information from the patient's file that they think is relevant, including the patient's socioeconomic and family status.

"We found that when all of the information was available to the doctors, the forum changed its decision in about a quarter of the cases. Incidentally, when we asked them in advance in how many cases the discussion would change if they had all of the information, they weren't smug. They predicted the rate of change almost exactly."

Such an approach also arouses hope in another project that has already been launched: Intellispace Oncology - a decision tree for cancer specialists used to support medical decisions. This development began at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "The software stores the information and recommends treatment according to the existing protocols. We have developed large trees with many branches for dozens of types of cancer and are constantly updating them according to the development of research and instructions from doctors' organizations," Shefer says, adding that the tree is not meant to replace a doctor, but can make it technically easier for him or her to compare decisions, while taking into account the patient's specific data, as is customary in the profession. The trick in this case is to present the right information to the doctor - neither too much nor too little. An overload of information doesn't help doctors."

The next stage in the plan is connect the decision trees to the patient's genetic information. "We're not offering technology for determining the human genome right now, but we are developing technology that takes the information from the party that did the DNA sequencing and locates the genetic sites of interest - those in which a change occurred that can guide us in treating cancer.

"Genetic information in cancer is a classic case of excess information. It is now clear that this information is important, but doctors don't know what to do with all of it. They aren't geneticists, and even a geneticist isn't always familiar with all of the current research on every gene. This software can reduce an hour of work to 10 minutes. The system marks the genetic changes found in the past to be relevant and enables the doctor to immediately see all of the articles in medical literature relevant to them."

Bringing patients back home

According to Shefer, Philips is currently also devoting thought to making information available to patients and making it significant for them. "The information belongs to the patient," she says. Presenting the information to the patient will become more and more important as medicine focuses on prevention and in effect moves into the home.

"Home monitoring devices, such as glucose meters, blood pressure meters, and sleep monitors, already exist, but if they are connected to a medical center and to technology that can issue an alert when the medical center should pay attention to what's happening to the patient, it will make a big difference. This is what will really make it possible to bring people home from the hospital, with all the well-known benefits of this approach," she explains.

Shefer says that Philips can now predict whether a person is likely to suffer a fall by monitoring that person's movements at home.

"Globes": Where will you get the additional available medical staff?

Shefer: "We make doctors available by bringing patients home. These systems give a doctor more time, not less, providing that they are really capable of issuing alerts only in the right places. Prevention is also designed to reduce the burden on the system. The vision is a model in which the insurance company tells the patient, 'You are insured as long as you do your part. You have an expensive machine here, so take good care of it."

Cooperating with startups

A considerable proportion of the developments in this area took place in Israel. Philips's activity in Israel began after the company acquired the CT business of Elscint in 2001. It has 1,000 employees here, the bulk of whom are developing imaging devices. A rising proportion, however, are working in information processing.

"In 2001, Philips had only 190 employees in Israel," Shefer says. "Since then, nuclear medicine has been added to the CT activity, following by the development of the information division from a small team that dealt with computer work stations for imaging devices. The Israeli team's success in information processing and the fact that its responsibility is constantly increasing are related to Israeli information processing capabilities and also the entrepreneurial spirit, which was diametrically opposed to Philips's thought processes at the time as a veteran corporation with a tradition in electronic consumer products. Today, the entire corporation has a more entrepreneurial character."

How do you work with the entrepreneurial environment in Israel?

"Our joint incubator with Teva, Sanara Ventures, is very successful. We cooperate with startups in bringing their technology, together with our systems, to existing work flow in hospitals. Without us, it's very difficult for them to do this, because they have an algorithm that doesn't actually connect to the existing system and hospitals don't have the time and availability needed to install them. These products supplement the innovation that we offer.

"We're in touch with startups that are not in the hospital theater, such as designers of wearable sensors and monitoring and prevention products. The search for cooperation with young companies is staking place both in Israel and outside it."

The Israel Innovation Authority recently announced a large benefits program for companies maintaining activity in Israel. You are already very strong here, so maybe you already missed out on the incentive.

"The government has large-scale plans in medical devices, especially in information processing in Israel. There is certainly room for more support in international companies. Israel is oriented to young companies, startups, and that's great, but large companies have a great many employees, both directly and as subcontractors. Philips provides a livelihood to 3,000 people in Israel from many different occupations and sectors. We're making a billion shekels of products a year here."

What would you like the government to do?

"It would be good if it were easier to settle the intellectual property problem with hospitals and institutions of higher learning, especially sending intellectual property overseas. We do this daily; we can't get authorization each time.

"Intellectual property issues are becoming more and more complicated. Intellectual property isn't just a registered patent invented in a medical institution; sometimes it's also the information itself. To whom does information produced and analyzed in our system belong: to the hospital or to us? Or does it belong to the patient, or maybe to all of humanity?"

According to Shefer, hospitals in Israel are very open to and interested in cooperation. "One the one hand, there is a need for regulation in the matter, while on the other hand, all regulation stops progress. We would be glad if all of the information were available for medical research. I think that this would facilitate major rapid improvement in treatment of patients."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on August 22, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

Dr. Efrat Shefer Photo: Shlomo Shoham
Dr. Efrat Shefer Photo: Shlomo Shoham
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