Medical robotics (illustrative)
Medical robotics (illustrative)iStock

Amid conflicting predictions and mounting dread about the arrival of the coronavirus in Israel, Sheba Medical Center is preparing for it with different high-tech means: a telemedicine app that enables patients to receive care in the isolation, but comfort, of their own home; and robots that can treat in-hospital patients in order to minimize contact with staff – and other patients.

Sheba's Datos Health-In is a telemedicine app which enables patients to remain quarantined at home. In the event of an epidemic, with more patients than isolation rooms available, the app can be a viable tool for patients who are not severely ill. With the app, patients can enter vital signs and other information which is directly accessed by their doctor. Patients can also establish contact with their physicians at any time of day or night.

The program was launched on February 9 and tested on Israelis who had been in China and who, according to Health Ministry instructions, must be in quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus. Doctors initialize contact with the patients twice a day. "This is one instance where telemedicine protects staff as well as other patients, by minimizing direct contact with those infected with the coronavirus," explained Galia Barkai, head of telemedicine services at Sheba.

Another high-tech solution for patients possibly infected with the coronavirus is a robot which can enter the patient's room and be controlled by medical staff from the outside. Designed by California-based virtual healthcare company Intouch Health, the robots are already in use in other departments, such as in the ICU of pediatric cardiology and the Trauma Unit. The robot can perform various tasks while transmitting information and images in real time to the doctor. "This technology is the perfect solution to provide care for inpatients infected with coronavirus, while protecting staff from contagion," said Barkai.

On Tuesday, Sheba ran its first drill in its new field hospital, a modular unit that can be erected in a nearby open area and used for treating coronavirus patients. The unit would include a special area for examining those suspected of contracting the virus, as well as an isolation area for those who test positive.

Screening for the virus involves produces results in just a few hours. But with initial symptoms that are not very dramatic and more reminiscent of flu, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, Israel's Health Ministry allows only those who have returned from China and a few other countries in the Far East to be tested. So far, no arrivals from China or the Far East have tested positive.