Israeli Health Technology May Inform US Medical Response to COVID-19

June 2, 2020 by Kate Michael

Novel technologies are being used around the globe to combat COVID-19. Practical applications of new technologies are poised to make a significant impact in the fight against the virus. Among those is a batch of innovations coming out of Israel, which is now seeing a low uptick in patients since it began lifting restrictions on restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, and other businesses. 

Israel hopes technologies like these will help to squash its second curve, saving lives and businesses.

The focus has mainly been on diagnostic capabilities, though Israeli companies are also keen to assist in making and improving personal protective equipment. 

“Technology can provide a quick and readily available pre-diagnostic assessment of COVID-19 infection without a need for human intervention,” Afeka College President and former tech CEO Ami Moyal, who is central to some unique research, told the Well News. “The technology essentially multiplies human capabilities.”

Among the new tech that Israel is testing are artificial intelligence (AI) and speech recognition products, remote testing diagnostic capabilities, anti-microbial fabrics, and crowdsourced software to create do-it-yourself personal protective equipment. Technologies like these are “essential to identifying likely carriers of the virus at the early stages of infection, in order to prioritize testing efforts and break the chain of COVID-19 transmission,” said Moyal.

Israeli startup Aidoc, founded in 2016, develops full-body AI medical imaging software that is already in use at over 300 medical centers worldwide. Its latest AI product, which has been approved by the FDA, can analyze, detect, and prioritize coronavirus findings from any computerized tomography (CT) scan that contains all or part of the lung. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it has often been radiologists that were first to diagnose COVID-19 when outward symptoms were not presenting, and now Aidoc’s radiological AI studies of the chest, abdomen, and cervical spine are accelerating discovery and proving useful to prioritize urgent cases and expedite treatment. 

TytoCare, an Israeli telehealth company, has seen surging demand for its remote medical testing devices as the adoption of telehealth worldwide is at an all-time high. TytoCare’s products perform comprehensive medical exams and then send the gathered information to the patient’s primary care provider, which has been particularly beneficial in monitoring patients infected with the coronavirus both in and out of hospitalized settings. TytoCare’s handheld devices examine the heart, lungs, skin, ears, throat, and abdomen — as well as measuring body temperature — to help medical workers make informed decisions about health care while minimizing physical contact.

Also to suppress the hazards of contact, two Israeli companies are leading a revolution in PPE. Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), a community of creators of prototypes and tech products that launched in Israel in 2014, is already offering forty DIY designs for masks, face shields, and other safety gear that anyone can download and produce. Another Israel firm, Sonovia Tech, is ameliorating PPE with its creation of an anti-microbial fabric for use in masks, protective clothing, hospital bedding and gowns. Pilot tests have shown this fabric, infused with metal- oxide nanoparticles, to be highly effective in killing germs. Reusable antimicrobial SonoMasks that last through 100 washings have already entered the U.S. market in four sizes. 

In other innovations, Moyal and his team at Israel’s Afeka Centre for Language Processing have been working on speech recognition technology that has the potential to identify potential COVID-19 carriers using voice analysis even before these people are displaying symptoms. Afeka has been “active in speech processing research for over a decade,” says Moyal, “now we are looking at daily usage by the general public.” Researchers have been recording speech samples from COVID-19 patients at different stages of the disease and testing them against a control group of healthy people, as well as a control group of those testing negative for COVID-19, but with other respiratory symptoms. Using new machine learning algorithms and advanced speech processing techniques, Moyal’s team studies the effects of the virus on the human voice to distinguish between those in good health and those potentially carrying COVID-19.

While tech companies all over the world are working to produce innovations to improve diagnostics and combat outbreaks in the COVID-19 pandemic, these examples from Israel are inspiring advancements. As the United States continues to explore reopening in a pandemic environment, technologies just like those being studied and originated in Israel may help American businesses in their dual focus on health and economic recovery.

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