Governor Baker outlines benefits of planned trip to Israel

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CAMBRIDGE >> A business-government delegation traveling to Israel next week has the potential to foster breakthroughs for monitoring people with chronic illness and bolstering defenses against computer hackers, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.

The governor, who worked with a venture capital fund and led Harvard Pilgrim Health Care before his successful run for governor in 2014, extolled the possible benefits of the trip to a crowd gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wearable devices, digitization of medical records, big data and wireless technology could significantly improve the ability of health care providers to monitor patients with chronic illnesses, he said.

"Historically the way this has always worked is if you're dealing with a chronic condition or two or three or four of them, you are either normal or you are crashing," Baker said. "There was never any in-between because it was really hard to come up with a way to measure on a regular sort of ongoing 24-7 basis what the current state of play for somebody was."

Baker said technological advancements could enable medical professionals to determine when someone is "normal but trending negative."

A study released earlier this year found there were gaps in digital health records.

"Going forward, our national policy for investment in [electronic health records] needs to be re-examined to surmount the fragmentation that currently exists in US healthcare and to set robust technical standards for interoperability and data quality," the study's principal investigator Stephen Soumerai, of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, said in a statement.

Israel and Massachusetts both have economies geared toward technological innovation, and Israeli-founded companies in Massachusetts employed about 9,000 people, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Israeli government has also distinguished itself in the realm of cyberwarfare. The country reportedly joined with the United States to create the Stuxnet virus targeting an Iranian nuclear facility.

U.S. institutions have been targeted by attacks from abroad, and Baker has said keeping data secure from hackers is one of the things "I lie awake at night worrying about."

"There are no borders in the cyber-security world," Baker said Wednesday.

Baker provided no details on the particular itinerary of the trip or its roster, though he noted while he would not attend himself, "several" people in the audience at MIT would be there.

David Goodtree, who wrote the study on the boom of Israeli-founded businesses in Massachusetts, said those firms bring in two-thirds of their investment from out-of-state sources, favoring the time-zone, direct flights and academic culture of the Boston area.

Boston also offers companies access to an American market, which is much larger than the area around Israel, where civil war and antipathy towards the Jewish nation abound. Goodtree wrote that the Bay State's Jewish population numbers 200,000 and a prototype of the Israeli flag was "designed and displayed in Boston in 1891," more than a half-century before the Middle Eastern nation was founded.

Baker, who has said he plans to make Israel his first overseas trip as governor, would follow in the footsteps of a number of other Bay State officials who have visited the country, including in recent years Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

Paul McMorrow, the director of communications and policy for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, did not immediately provide information on those traveling to Israel next week or the trip's agenda.

At MIT, Baker said the trip would include public sector and private sector officials. "I am really looking forward to what comes of that trip," the governor said.


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