Preparing for Coronavirus: Sheba Establishes First Known Telemedicine Program
In response to the recent epidemic, the coronavirus preparation at Sheba has begun by testing the first known telemedicine program in the world. The program consists of two main components: a “robot,” which is a Vici solution designed by Intouch Health, a California-based virtual reality healthcare program, and a telemedicine application designed by Datos Health.
Sheba Medical Center has only a limited number of isolation rooms in the hospital, and the coronavirus preparation by using the telemedicine solution provides an effective way to care for patients in the event that multiple diagnoses are made at the same time. Additionally, taking these extreme precautions significantly reduces the risk to hospital staff and other patients.
The robotic Vici telemedicine solution can enter the room of an infected patient, while being controlled by doctors or nurses who remain outside. Using this robot, the patient’s vital signs, such as heart rate, can be monitored.
“This is one way to use telemedicine program to protect our staff,” said Dr. Galia Barkai, Head of Telemedicine at Sheba. “By minimizing direct contact between the patients and medical personnel, we reduce the percentage risk of healthcare staff contracting the virus.”
To treat patients who are less severely ill, the Datos Health application enables medical professionals to monitor their condition as they remain isolated in the comfort of their own homes.
“Less severe patients could be monitored outside the hospital,” Dr. Barkai explained. “We give them our telemedicine application and communicate with them via video at least twice a day. This allows them to stay more comfortably in their homes and reduces risk within the hospital.”
According to the World Health Organization, the death toll in China from coronavirus (officially termed COVID-19) topped 1,770 people as of February 17, and the numbers continue to rise. Over 70,548 cases have been confirmed, with 99% of them occurring in China. To date, approximately 500 cases have been reported outside of China, in 24 countries. Since February 20, Israel has a confirmed coronavirus case.
Coronavirus preparation began at Sheba by testing the advanced telemedicine program before any patients tested positive for the virus in Israel. As a protective measure, people who had just returned to Israel from China reported to the medical center and were quarantined at home for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus.
“Although we don’t presently have any positive patients in Israel, we are always dealing with suspected patients and preparing for the worst-case scenario,” said Dr. Barkai. “So, we are creating all these systems to help us handle a situation where we might have to deal with many patients.”
A new field hospital was also established by Sheba as an external unit for treating coronavirus patients. Similar in design to a military field hospital, the unit is modular and can be erected instantly in a nearby open area. It will include a specialized area for doctors to examine patients suspected of having coronavirus, as well as an isolation area for anyone who tested positive. The first drill was already conducted.
In this field hospital, Sheba’s doctors are able to provide all medical services available in their inpatient wing. However, the external, separate location of this unit benefits other hospitalized patients – especially because many sick persons are immunosuppressed and more vulnerable to catching the life-threatening virus.
Several high-level meetings have been held in Israel to discuss the coronavirus threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with senior health, emergency, and government executives to help put plans in place to prepare and protect the country.
“We are not taking any unnecessary risks,” the prime minister said. “We are aware that the virus cannot be completely prevented, so we are preparing to deal with the virus after its first entry into Israel.”
In line with this sentiment, Sheba, along with Magen David Adom, also announced the implementation of new safety measures to prevent blood transfusion patients from infection by the coronavirus.