Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning boasted at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting about the “historic significance” of investing close to a billion shekel (just under $300 million) in “digital health.” What he meant was for Israel to trade its complete and enormous medical patients’ database for cash.
You probably think we’re kidding. Let’s listen…
“We are developing the industries of tomorrow,” the PM said. “In effect, these are the industries of today.” And so, he continued, “two-and-a-half years ago, I marked an additional area and that is digital health. This has a greater potential than cyber. It is gigantic, greater than transportation, which is also a gigantic field. This field of digital health is estimated at $6 trillion.
“Let us assume that we will receive 10% of the real market for this potential, not our market, the real global market in the coming years. In my view, this is the maximum estimate. It is a $600 billion market and out of it, if we succeed, as we did in cyber and autonomous vehicles and our vehicle industry, we can expect here a significant increase in new products.
“What are the new products? Israel has a gigantic database that embraces almost the entire population, a large population relative to – let’s say – the Baltic countries, one of which has one million people in this databank; we have almost nine million people. This is a focused databank of the health records of almost each and every one of us over the last two decades. This is a great asset and we want to make it available to researchers, developers and companies in order to receive two things: preventive medicine and personal medicine, personally calibrated for each person.
“Of course, this depends on the consent of each person – this right is maintained absolutely – to divulge their personal details and if not he is part of the collective. The collective itself is of immense value. We are achieving a breakthrough here on a global level. The interest of global companies is very great. I have already met with many of them. They all want to come here, and rightly so. They see this as a new direction.”
“Success is not assured,” Netanyahu cautioned, but added that “the relative investment, I think, is not large, 960 million shekel ($275 million), it’s not the end of the world, but it is a significant investment that the government is making in order to capture the industries of the future, to bring them here so that we can lead. This is a very fierce decision and it has supporters, especially [the PM’s chief of staff] Eli Groner, Minister Gila Gamliel, the Finance minister, the Deputy Health Minister. They are all partners in this important move.”
At this point, Prime Minister Netanyahu shared an anecdote: “At dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, we showed him the health card. He said: I also want one like this. I told him: One like this is not enough. You need 1.3 billion like this… And he was very excited by this. In effect, every country and thousands of companies are currently competing for what we are deciding to invest in today.”
“The entire world wants health,” Israel’s CEO concluded his pitch. “Everyone wants to travel in these and other cars. Everyone wants transportation and security that their bank accounts will not be broken into. Everyone wants to live, to live a healthier and longer life. This is the ultimate market and strongest market not just economically but personally.
“This is a very great thing with gigantic potential, therefore, we are investing in it. I usually don’t rush to invest government funds in visions. I am a little more cautious, being a graduate of the private sector. I think that politicians are always very quick with visions – nano-visions, micro-visions and macro-visions; they have all kinds of visions. But we are cautious. Up until now, we have been very precise, very precise in cyber and very precise in other fields. I think that we are very precise. This is a historic day and I think that we will remember it for many years.”
And don’t forget, under Netanyahu’s vision of a brave new world, every individual retains the right to refuse consent. Like those 1.3 billion free Chinese.