March 26, 2019
This article was inspired by a recent speaking tour on collaboration and innovation in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and MedTech between the U.S., Israel, and Japan. The tour, which traveled to Houston, Miami, and Atlanta, was in partnership with The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP) and the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC). It is the third in a series with both partnering organizations.
By Dylan Adelman
Did you know that the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is medical error? It’s a disturbing statistic. Preventable deaths outnumber victims of respiratory diseases, strokes, and Alzheimer's Disease.
Meanwhile, in Japan more than 33 percent of citizens are over the age of 60. In the next five decades, the population is expected to shrink by one-third. With the world’s highest life expectancy and a shortage of people to take care of the elderly, Japan has a demographic time bomb that’s ready to burst.
Enter Israel, the “Start-up Nation” that can drive the other two nations forward with innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health.
“Digital health” is a catchy phrase you’ll be hearing a lot more in the years to come. The concept, which interweaves medical technology (or MedTech) and healthcare, is a synthesis of AI, machine learning, wearable devices, Big Data, smart phones, and more.
Indeed, AI integrates into everything these days. Engineers are applying AI, machine learning, and a rapidly expanding reservoir of Big Data to all industries. Cars are beginning to drive themselves, drones are working with emergency responders, and robots are starting to run hotels.
But one of the most significant, lucrative, and delicate industries for AI implementation is healthcare. People (and machines) are hard at work to identify ways in which new technologies can be developed and applied in hospitals, home care, and daily healthy lifestyles. To be sure, the horrifying number of medical mistakes made in the U.S. will, in time, drop with the proper application of AI in MedTech..
Pioneers of digital health are all over the globe. But where might one find trailblazers in the field – companies and individuals that will shape digital health and MedTech? Look no further than the U.S., Japan, and Israel.
The U.S. is home to huge R&D-intensive companies that produce cutting-edge medical devices, which account for 40 percent of the global market. Improvements in neuro-stimulators, stent technologies, biomarkers, robotic assistance, and implantable electronic devices have already done much to narrow the medical margin of error. With the manufacturing of new devices and increased supply to hospitals and homecare, the costs associated with monitoring and preserving health should decrease.
But even with increased availability of medical devices and cheaper healthcare, there’s significant work to be done. As previously mentioned, medical errors are a persistent problem, and the U.S. can do more to digitize medical records and create systems that properly communicate with each other to avert mistakes that have lethal consequences. Increased digitization, communication, and precision are key. As such, a partner like Japan might be the best equipped to help.
In 2016 the Japanese government launched the Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy Council, which then authored the “Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy.” It was the second country in the world, after Canada, to do so. The strategy is a roadmap that places emphasis on applying AI to health, medical care, welfare, and mobility, and aims to establish a (thoroughly branded) “Society 5.0.”
Many of the efforts being made to bring digital health innovations to Japan focus on “monozukuri,” Japan’s excellence in the manufacturing of things. Japan’s robotics and facilities are unmatched in reliability and precision. These are important factors in caring for the sick and elderly, for whom small errors can lead to large problems. However, with such an emphasis on improvements and tuning, there is less of an imperative to innovate.
That’s where Israel comes in.
Israel’s wealth of creativity and incubation culture are hard to beat. In 2005 there were approximately 65 Israeli companies that worked in digital health. There are currently more than 400. In the coming years that number will continue to increase.
Bu even with more than 400 companies working in the digital health field, Israel is still at the start of its pivot to MedTech. Roughly 56 percent of Israeli digital health companies are still in the R&D and seed stage. There’s also government support, including a $264 million national digital health program for start-ups that was announced in 2018. That means it’s likely right on the cusp of seeing the industry
How can the U.S., Japan, and Israel best work together?
Each country should rely on its competitive advantage. Israel invents and incubates. Japan fine-tunes and sharpens. The U.S. manufactures and distributes. Then, all three integrate.
This is much easier said than done. The governments of each nation have already taken initiative on memorandums of cooperation and business delegations, but increased buy-in from the private sector is still required. As of 2018, the digital health global market stood at approximately $172 billion. By 2020 that number is expected to surpass $200 billion. It’s an obvious bandwagon to jump on, especially as the three countries continue to emphasize trade and cooperation.
AI could offer a major economic boost to all three countries. More importantly there are a lot of lives to be saved and improved. With the healthcare issues that the U.S., Japan, and Israel face, along with daily breakthroughs in digital health, trilateral teamwork is a no-brainer.
Dylan Adelman is Senior Program Associate at the AJC Asia Pacific Institute.