Interview with Prof. Eyal Zimlichman

Chief Medical officer and Chief Innovation Officer at Sheba Medical Center, and Founder of the FOH community.
“As a healthcare administrator, I think the most significant value we can provide is our commitment to always strive to improve the medical care we give our patients”
The Coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the world as we know it. How do you see the change? How is it reflected in the organization you manage?

Undoubtedly Coronavirus has had numerous ramifications; of course most of them negative, pertaining to global health and the global economy; in the State of Israel as well as other countries. However, within these negative outcomes, it is also possible to identify quite a few positive impacts, silver linings. We can find things that will still affect us for the foreseeable future. For example, telemedicine has transformed into something that is now actually a solution that enables the provision of basic medical services. It is evident that some organizations were better prepared, with inbuilt telemedicine infrastructure even before the pandemic – and of course they had an advantage in their ability to conduct ongoing activities. On the other hand, other organizations had to develop these capabilities on the fly while dealing with the virus, in order to continue regular activities.

This is the central issue we have seen during the last few months of the pandemic, but I think it’s not just there, it’s also with other issues – such as the ability to assimilate innovation faster, across the length and breadth of the organization. We’ve seen that during Corona it was easier for us to assimilate innovation in any field, and I think this advantage will remain with us well into the future. As will the ability of medical establishments to deal with crisis and uncertainty. There’s no doubt the experience we have gained and are still gaining will prepare us better for the future.

What problems do you expect global healthcare will be facing 10 years from now? How are you preparing for those problems today, in your organization?

Hospitals are a focal point that concentrate some of the weaknesses of the modern healthcare system. For example, pertaining to the issue of quality and safety gaps, we know that hospitals lead on the issue of unintentional harm to patients, in treatment that is sub-optimal. This is because of the great complexity of patients and the acute condition of the patients as opposed to community medicine. In addition, in the field of health system costs – hospitals are considered to be perhaps the most expensive organizations, because of the combination of advanced technologies with extremely professional personnel.
As we look to the future we try to address at least these two problems (and there are others) and there is no doubt that our ability to get some of the services out of the hospital and into the community and home makes a decisive impact on the hospital’s ability to deal with the economic issue. Home treatments are fundamentally cheaper and enable us to lower a large part of the hospital’s expenses. Also, other technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics are technologies that will enable us to provide more efficient and effective treatments within hospitals. It seems that by combining the two, we can deal with some of the challenges I mentioned.

How you see the next 12 months (as they pertain to the Coronavirus)?

There’s a lot of uncertainty when we look ahead during this period. I expect what we will see in the immediate future a continuation of COVID waves similar to what we have witnessed thus far, until the release of an effective vaccine and its distribution to the majority of the population, which I think will happen within the next 12 months. There is no doubt that we know how to deal better with every wave we face due to the experience attained from dealing with previous waves, from an improved understanding of the disease, an improved ability to deploy technologies, telemedicine and other solutions.
I think, if it is possible to guess or predict, that the worst is behind us in dealing with the pandemic – and we are certainly taking the right steps in dealing with it.

What is the value that drives you in your professional life? How is this value reflected in everyday life and important activities?

As a healthcare administrator, I think the most significant value is our commitment to always improve the medical care we give our patients. I live by the belief that clinicians ultimately have two goals: one is to treat patients and the other is to always try and improve the care we give. Advanced and outstanding health systems are those same systems that know how to invest effort into constantly improving, and as a prerequisite, this requires accurate measurement and systems that provide feedback. These systems enable us to identify vulnerabilities and strengths, thereby improving the care we give our patients, on an individual as well as a population level.

Your collaboration with Mr. Charles Kahn gave birth to the FOH community. What is the purpose of the community? Why was it important for you to establish it?

I think the FOH community has two objectives: on the one hand, the need to create a vision and mold it in light of current events. For example, the effects of the COVID virus: how does the pandemic affect the vision of future health? On the other hand, you can’t disconnect from the day-to-day problems that hospital and health system administrators confront; and that’s also the second goal. When you place healthcare leaders together in a room, be it real or virtual, we’ll first address the daily challenges. Consequently, it was also important for us to create the platform that would allow not only the discussion of the future vision for medicine in 10 years, but also to discuss everyday affairs and to facilitate an environment that would enable managers to share experiences and raise problems and challenges.

The FOH community is a global community that plans to meet online once a quarter. Was it planned this way in the first place, or did the plans change as a result of Coronavirus?

We’ve certainly learned a lot, and just as the whole world has changed from Corona, it has also affected us. Originally, the community was designed for an annual face-to-face meeting; however in a two-day session we are limited in our ability to develop issues in depth. Therefore, in light of the fact that the virtual medium enables us today to do many things not face-to-face, we decided that it would be appropriate to have virtual meetings in addition to face-to-face meetings that are expected to take place annually. The decision was made to perform quarterly meetings in anticipation of the annual meeting, so that at the annual meeting we could raise issues and summarize them and, in so doing, promote deliverables created by community members.

How do you expect the community to look 10 years from now? What would you consider its success?
I think the community needs to generate output that can make an impact beyond the community itself – on a global scale. I think that if the output of the community becomes a significant planning tool and perhaps if reality fulfills our vision, then the community can position itself as an influential factor in shaping the health system.

Tell us about yourself, something no one knows. A hobby perhaps.
My hobby gravitates toward wine – not just wine tasting though also wine trips, which I find fascinating. I invest a lot of effort into planning wine tours, each one to a different global destination. Of course, not too much of that going on right now. Another reason to anxiously wait for COVID-19 to die out.