Dr. Yitshak Kreiss, director general of the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, was in Toronto recently to collaborate on medical innovation with Canadian institutions. The CJN spoke with him just five days after Newsweek named Sheba Medical Center one of the 10 best hospitals in the world.

What is the Sheba Medical Center?

Sheba Medical Center is the biggest hospital in Israel and in the Middle East. It’s about a 2,000-bed hospital, which has in one campus acute care, a general hospital, a pediatric hospital, an obstetrics and gynecology centre, a cardiology centre, an oncology centre, a rehabilitation hospital, even post-acute care facilities. It’s an excellent medical centre that invests a lot of effort in not only providing medicine in Israel, but also to the region and internationally. It puts a lot of emphasis on research technology and innovation, and it is also a hospital of peace that sees its role as treating patients from all over the world, from all over Israel – Muslims, Christians, Jews – anywhere. Just to show the magnitude of Sheba, we care for 1.6 million people a year.

What did you do before joining Sheba?

I dedicated all my life to saving soldiers in the battlefield and providing medical care to humanitarian missions and disaster areas. I was in the IDF for 25 years, ascending from a battalion surgeon to surgeon general of the IDF. Three weeks after I retired from the army, which was three years ago, I chose to join Sheba and took over as CEO.

What is the innovation network project?

Sheba Medical Center has long invested in and understood that innovation and research is part of being an excellent medical institution. So for the last 10, 15, 20 years we invested a lot in innovation. But two years ago we understood that the world has changed, and we created a new concept of medical innovation at Sheba, which is an integration of four levels of operation. One is to try to generate a place for the infrastructure for inventions and patents within Sheba. So we now encourage a lot of inventors. We have 1,600 physicians and 500 researchers. We encourage them to come up with ideas, we give them grants, we give them 10, 12 months to come up with proof of concept. After one year, if they have the proof of concept, we can move forward.

That’s something inside Sheba, to try to generate many, many ideas that will eventually evolve to a concept and then to a company. But that wasn’t enough. We needed to bring startups from outside. In Israel, a lot of young people who are not from the medical environment have good ideas, and they want to create startups and generate innovation, but they lack three main things: patients, data and the wisdom of the physicians. So we created a hub for them and we attracted them to Sheba. We gave them the data, patients and sharing with the physicians, and they came in. So far, 40 startups have joined our medical innovation centre and we are growing very, very quickly because they find it very easy to work inside Sheba.

The third level we wanted to create, or to integrate, is the big industries, so we approached the big players in the industry and we signed contracts to bring them into the innovation centre.

And the fourth level we needed is international collaborators. We understood we should create a network, not only work on artificial intelligence ourselves, but if we can share with other institutions, like in Canada, we should do it. So we are signing memoranda of understanding with the leading medical institutions in North America and in Europe to make a network of innovation. We concentrate a lot on big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning and telemedicine, because we believe that the next revolution in redesigning health care will come up from those tools.

At Sheba, we also understand that the way we do medicine today should be changed. Ten years from now, we will no longer be able to provide the patients the quality, the level of care that we want if we continue to work this way. So we are trying to transform Sheba, and we are going through a transformation to become the city of health. We are a hospital today – in Hebrew, it’s called a house for the sick – and now we are transforming Sheba into a city of health. That city of health will not only be concentrated on treating the patient when he’s sick. We look on continuity of care from prediction, prevention, cure and rehabilitation. We will go through a digital transformation.

What we want to happen is that we will eliminate the barriers and the borders of a hospital. Who said the hospital should care for only those who live around it? Maybe hospitals in the next 10 years can be places that generate knowledge and know-how and care for a lot of patients that are around and inside it, and the digital transformation will help us do it. So this is our vision today.

Have you created any inventions from the new innovation process?

We already sold a company nine years ago that created a new heart valve. We sold a company that created biological glue. We sold a medication for cancer. We are now working on a new artificial intelligence imaging company that we believe can predict and diagnose stroke with a computer algorithm. We have new medications in the area of neuroscience, like multiple sclerosis. We have a new microvalve that’s being developed to be a substitute for operations on the mitral valve in the heart. If it succeeds, it can be put in with cauterization instead of surgery. So that’s a huge step forward. And there are many, many others.

What humanitarian work do you do?

At Sheba, we see our role in the world not only to treat our patients, but as I said, we see a role in tikun olam, in extending a hand to anyone in need that we can help. So we work humanitarian response in disaster areas all over the world. We work in Nigeria, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, and we recently launched a delegation to Mozambique because there was a cyclone disaster there. We put a lot of emphasis on that.

We also treat people from the region, from Syria, from the Palestinian Authority, from places Israel doesn’t have formal relations with, because we see it as our role, our privilege to provide medicine with no borders. Because medicine is a true bridge between peoples, cultures, languages, and it’s not political. So we are privileged to do it. And we believe that we put the seeds for peace by medicine through medicine.