March 28, 2018 / 1:51 PM / 25 days ago

Israel aims for 100,000 people to volunteer for health database

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel plans to collect data over five years for its digital health project and hopes 100,000 people will volunteer to include their medical records in a database it estimates could bring the country billions of dollars in annual income.

The project will get under way in the fourth quarter and over the next six months the government will work out the mechanisms for collecting the data, Eli Groner, director general of the prime minister’s office (PMO), told reporters on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel will invest nearly 1 billion shekels ($290 million) in the project to make data about the state of health of its population available to researchers and private companies.

“The increasingly unsustainable costs of healthcare are driving the world to a more personalized and preventive healthcare model,” Groner said.

Almost all of Israel’s 8.5 million citizens belong to four health maintenance organizations, which keep members’ records digitally, thus comprising a huge database.

Digital health records are valuable. Big data analytics — comparing information provided by large numbers of patients — give leading drugmakers indications of how medicines perform in the real world.

The PMO estimated the global digital health market was worth 6 trillion shekels annually and the income potential for Israel’s economy at 12 billion shekels a year.

Israel has 470 companies in the digital health sector.

“We hope pharmaceutical companies will want to come here,” Groner said. “We anticipate creating a new industry of medical research here.”

Healthcare experts say Israel’s push to harness big data for healthcare had huge potential, but also held risks in terms of privacy and medical confidentiality.

Groner said participation in the database will remain voluntary and there will be several layers of data protection.

“We need to get better at data protection,” Groner said but added: “No country is as adept at cyber protection as Israel.”

Reporting by Tova Cohen, editing by Louise Heavens

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