With fears of a coronavirus pandemic spreading, a renowned Israeli hospital is taking preventive measures using what it calls a first-of-its-kind approach.

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, which is ranked among the world’s best hospitals, is preparing for potential coronavirus cases in Israel through telemedicine. According to Sheba, no other hospital in the world has tried this approach against the virus.

The largest hospital in Israel and the Middle East, Sheba consists of 200 acres and was ranked No. 10 in the world by Newsweek last year.

A way of monitoring the virus remotely, telemedicine can accommodate individuals with less severe symptoms while freeing up hospital facilities for people with more acute conditions, according to hospital staff. And it comes as Israel readies for the return of citizens who were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan, which has reported hundreds of coronavirus cases on board.

Part of the telemedicine treatment consists of a platform-based mobile app developed by a New York and Israel-based company, Datos, through which users can check their body temperature. The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised people to seek early medical care if they show signs of “fever, cough and difficulty breathing,” as these are potential indicators of “a respiratory infection or other serious condition,” which may include the previously undetected strain of the coronavirus first reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31. As the WHO explained, coronaviruses are a group of viruses with effects ranging from the common cold to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).


In a release, Dr. Galia Barkai, head of telemedicine services at Sheba, said, “If and when the virus does come to Israel, we may end up being overwhelmed with a large number of coronavirus cases, all diagnosed at the same time, which could result in both staff and patients being at risk despite taking the most extreme precautions.”

Dr. Barkai added, “Datos’ solution can help us greatly reduce this risk by enabling us to monitor less severe patients outside the hospital, in the relative safety and comfort within their homes, with the telemedicine app enabling us to communicate with them via video whenever necessary.”

Uri Bettesh, the founder and CEO of Datos, called the app “the first platform of its kind that can seamlessly fit into care teams’ existing workflows, and provide them with crucial insights on patients monitored outside the hospital.”

“Our technology and mobile app have already proven their worth in enabling Sheba to remotely monitor people having recently returned from the Far East with symptoms that could indicate coronavirus infection, in their own homes, while keeping both patients and hospital staff as safe as possible from unnecessary exposure,” Bettesh added.

According to Sheba, it is currently using the Datos app to treat individuals with potential coronavirus symptoms. No confirmed cases have been reported in Israel by the WHO as of Feb. 17.

The Israeli government and Sheba are currently preparing for the arrival of citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The WHO reported 454 coronavirus cases aboard a cruise ship off Japan, although it did not specify the name of the vessel. As of Feb. 17, the WHO stated there have been 70,635 confirmed individual cases and 1,772 deaths in China, with an additional 794 confirmed cases and three deaths outside China. There are currently 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., including one in Boston.

Israeli citizens from the Diamond Princess who have not shown coronavirus symptoms will be flown home via special flight and quarantined for up to two weeks at Sheba, treated by specially trained staff and housed in a facility separate from the main campus, a hospital spokesman wrote in an email to JewishBoston.

The Israeli Ministry of Health praised the groundwork at Sheba for potential coronavirus cases. “Treatment for our citizens on the ship is a medical challenge for everyone involved, and Sheba is prepared for this process,” Moshe Bar Siman Tov, the director general of the Ministry of Health, said in a statement.