It may soon be the norm to conduct fetal assessment, gestational diabetes follow-ups, and even monitoring a baby’s heart rate during contractions by remote medicine, thanks to new telemedicine and digital health products being developed at the Women’s Health Innovation Center at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital outside Tel Aviv.
The pioneering femtech (female technology) center, under the auspices of the ARC (Accelerate Redesign Collaborate) Innovation Center, was originally set up to promote patient and doctor safety during COVID-19. But director Dr. Avi Tsur, OBGYN and high-risk pregnancy expert at the Josef Buchmann Gynecology and Maternity Center at Sheba, says the ongoing telemedicine breakthroughs will surely become routine for women’s health procedures.
“Only a few good things came from the COVID-19 spread,” Dr. Tsur tells NoCamels, “and one of them is definitely remote care. Even after COVID-19 ends, we won’t return to things we used to do. Now that we know we can treat many of our patients at home, we will never return to wasting their time and bringing them to the hospital and where they may be infected.”
The Women’s Health Innovation Center has numerous pilot studies underway in an effort to change the way the medical world handles high-risk pregnancies, postpartum follow-up, contraception, IVF, gynecologic oncology and other OB/GYN medical assessments.
“Because of COVID-19, we made this extra effort to develop a new paradigm for remote medical care,” Tsur says.
The ARC Innovation Center collaborates with digital health startups to develop new technologies and solutions to solve medical challenges. The clinicians at the Women’s Health Innovation Center are working with tech experts in artificial intelligence, precision medicine, and telemedicine to find solutions and better women’s health procedures.
There are numerous new developments now being created for specific scenarios — with the goal to adapt them to a variety of disciplines in the women’s health arena. In Israel and abroad.
Tsur talks about new ways now being tested to allow women with high-risk pregnancies to stay at home and self-monitor.
“Remote monitoring of vital signs, blood count and glucose, fetal monitoring and sonographic evaluation all reduce the need for high-risk and post-date pregnant women to attend the clinic in person, while the situation is constantly assessed either by AI methods or by an obstetrician who is online,” says Tsur.
He also says the hospital is developing an app for women with gestational diabetes to assess themselves in “just 30 minutes instead of spending a whole morning in the hospital.”
And there’s a pilot study underway that uses telemedicine to discharge women about eight hours after giving birth, instead of hospitalizing them for the typical 36-48 hours.
Tsur says his colleagues are still sometimes surprised by the new ideas on how to offer better digital medical care in the wake of COVID-19.
“When we presented some of the ideas for the first time, they were surprised. How can it be? How can a woman perform an ultrasound on herself? When will we receive the imaging? Even with my motivation, even I think about some of these things as, ‘how can it be,’” he says.
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But COVID-19 has made jumping hurdles and creating far-reaching possible solutions out of the seemingly impossible, pertinent.
It is for that reason that the Women’s Health Innovation Center allows image-sharing between doctors. For example, an obstetrician performing an ultrasound in one facility can share the imaging in real-time online, connecting with leading experts around the globe for guidance.
Tsur says he has mixed feelings about treating patients remotely but that providing patients with the best treatment remains the only real mission.
“Telemedicine creates new challenges because part of our clinical skill depends on being in the same room with the patient. I think that we need to leverage the new technology so as to overcome the associated disadvantages,” he says. “Clearly, we will never compromise. Telemedicine is meant to enhance treatment; when the need arises, we will convert a telemedicine visit to a real visit.”
Indeed, telemedicine is meant to augment care and clinical decisions.
“If we want to help the world, then we need to show that it has the ability to work in other places,” he tells NoCamels.
To show that, Tsur — who recently returned to Israel after spending three years at Stanford Medical Center in California as a visiting research and clinical fellow – says domestic and global collaborations are key to creating a new paradigm in the femtech sector.
“Our strength is understanding the clinical needs to specifically meet the clinical focuses. All of our projects are led by leading clinicians in the field who are keen on leveraging innovative technologies to improve their clinical term,” says Tsur. “Our ability to collaborate with Stanford, University of Texas and UCSF, as well as other places in the world, allows us to develop and validate our models to work for the general population. That’s important.”
In late October, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J., announced a partnership with Sheba Medical Center to create new telemedicine and digital health products and technologies, according to a Times of Israel report.
“Working in tandem with Sheba will enable us to participate in an open collaboration with world leaders in global healthcare innovation, all of us working together to find new and innovative ways to deliver patient care,” Holy Name Medical Center President and CEO Michael Maron said in the reported statement.
“Every collaboration brings additional advantages and we are really excited about collaborations with other hospitals, universities, high-tech companies, corporations… if we can help improve women’s health, we’re happy to collaborate,” he says.
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com