Five-year survival rates for Israelis with invasive cancers have rocketed over the last decade, and experts believe that a vigilant and skilled medical system has played a major part.
The improvement has been especially pronounced among women, who now have a survival rate of around 70 per cent, according to data published by the Israel Cancer Association in partnership with the Health Ministry. This reflects a rise of eight percentage points in a decade among Jewish women and nine percentage points among Arab women.
The treatment record in Israel, and its strong research credentials, has made it a destination for medical tourists. "It's natural, given the fact our doctors span a very wide area of expertise, and given that we trial many of the latest treatments here," said Dr Osnat Levtzion-Korach, who heads one of the country's largest hospitals.
Shamir Medical Center, which is less that 20 minutes from Israel's international airport, sees a steady stream of medical tourists, seeking everything from cancer therapies to dental implants. Advanced telemedicine means there is strong follow-up when people get home.
Dr Levtzion-Korach, Director-General, said that in every specialism, treatment combines Israel's signature high-tech approach with the country's emphasis on research.
"In the area of oncology, for example, we're involved in many clinical trials, which along with our emphasis on following the latest research, means that patients get the most advanced treatment options available," she commented.
Dr Levtzion-Korach thinks that when patients need cancer screening or treatment, the psychological burden can take a heavy toll on patients as well as the medical procedures themselves. "We ease this with innovations like our 'one-stop shop' for women's health, which allows patients to arrive and get a mammogram, surgical examination and even a biopsy in the same session," she stated.
"Waiting times for results are minimised and you decrease the stress by doing all of this at one time, which is so important for patients."
Dr Levtzion-Korach, the first woman to run a governmental hospital in Israel, was tapped for her post in 2017, as plans crystallised to grow Shamir Medical Center from the country's fourth-largest hospital, with 900 beds, to its biggest, with 2,300 beds in an expanded campus by 2035.
She is in her early 50s, younger than most hospital heads, and is widely seen as a tech-savvy, innovative thinker. Under her leadership, the use of robotic surgery has increased and in various areas, including dental, and there is significant use of 3D printing. "When we implant a tooth or add a crown, it's 3D printed - it's really very advanced," she said.
The Institute of Allergy Immunology is renowned for dealing with severe food allergies, and specialism in sports injuries has made the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team choose the hospital for its players' medical care.
Shamir Medical Center, dedicated to special therapy, has made headlines in recent months. The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research is at the forefront of efforts to use oxygen therapy to counter the effects of ageing.
In June Sagol's Head Professor Shai Efrati said that a special protocol he developed involving treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber improved cognitive function and brain tissue among healthy adults aged 65-plus.
In November, he published peer-reviewed research saying he h ad documented physical changes in human blood cells that may 'reverse' ageing.
The ageing focus at Sagol follows years spent administering hyperbaric protocols to treat medical conditions including neurological problems, wounds that are not healing, stroke and brain injury.
The hospital also pioneers genetic research.
"We have a very strong genetic institute that helps to diagnose rare diseases, and through genetic testing, prevent the birth of another child with same condition found in one's family," said Dr Levtzion-Korach. "Sometimes we can correct a condition. There is a large Arab population here in Israel, which means we may be very helpful in diagnosing and treating genetic conditions that arise in the UAE."
When it comes to the hospitality side of medical tourism, Dr Levtzion-Korach has developed infrastructure and services that make it an easy experience. Doctors in Israel liaise with patients' physicians back home to update their needs before they travel, and all details are arranged.
"We can provide whole treatment, arrange hospitality and food for the patient and, if needed, their family too, as we have a hotel in the hospital," commented Dr Levtzion-Korach.
"The way we see it, medical tourism is more than just the treatment alone. Everyone speaks English and many among our staff speak Arabic, so language is not a barrier. Far beyond treatment, we even organise trips for people.
"If a person is coming for the first time to Israel and wants to see Jerusalem or other tourist attractions and other places, we will arrange that. We put the patient's experience at the centre, and not only during treatment - we want their trip to be as enjoyable and memorable as possible," she said.
Dr Osnat Levtzion-Korach
CEO, Shamir Medical Center
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