Code Blue: Digitalising Healthcare in Europe

European Investment Fund (EIF)
7 min readOct 25, 2023
digitalisation, healthcare, technology, SMEs, European Investment Fund, Alzheimer’s, COVID

From pandemic preparedness to simple everyday therapeutics, digital solutions are changing the way we approach healthcare — and healthcare’s approach to us. Here’s a brief look at three innovative European SMEs leading the way, and some thoughts about the direction we are taking.

In what has become something of a truism, digitalisation continues to transform virtually all aspects of our lives, and nowhere are the potential real-world benefits more impactful than when it comes to our health and well-being.

If you cycle, run, swim or do all three (triathletes, we’re looking at you), then you’re likely familiar with fitness trackers, those unobtrusive technological wearable health devices that take the guesswork out of training to help you optimize your performance on the bike or road, or in the water. It should come as no surprise, then, that the same technology being used by today’s performance athletes is part of a broader digital revolution in health, one in which each of us now has immediate, easy access to innovative tools to track and improve our well-being, often in collaboration with a healthcare provider.

Once the domain of advanced research specialists, digital healthcare tools have entered the mainstream — whether in the form of mobile health apps, electronic health and medical records, wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine trends or remote patient monitoring. Moreover, far from being limited to the world of fintech, the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and blockchain technology show tremendous promise in terms of increased data privacy and interoperability, diagnostic accuracy and treatment optimisation.

Healthcare, Digitalisation and COVID-19

The recent pandemic and subsequent lockdowns underscored the fragility of our respective healthcare ecosystems across Europe. But they also presented opportunities for the strategic re-evaluation of a range of issues and processes, including early detection capabilities, the integration and exchange of health data across different platforms and systems (i.e., interoperability frameworks), and the need for improved access to care through the reduction of geographical barriers.

Quite simply, a novel virus required novel solutions, and teams of scientists, researchers and medical professionals began to focus on the unrealised potential of digital health tools, with AI- and blockchain-driven health options at the forefront. According to a 2021 paper by a team of Australian researchers,

“[…] blockchain can combat pandemics by enabling early detection of outbreaks, ensuring the ordering of medical data, and ensuring reliable medical supply chain during the outbreak tracing. Moreover, AI provides intelligent solutions for identifying symptoms caused by coronavirus for treatments and supporting drug manufacturing.”

More recently, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) along with the Institute for Drug Discovery, Leipzig University, have partnered to expand artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to speed up development of future vaccines against novel viral threats, contributing to Europe’s position at the vanguard of harnessing the power of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

Successful E-Health Initiatives Across the EU

But the digitalisation of healthcare goes beyond the threat of viruses and pandemic preparedness, touching many areas of everyday life — from physiotherapy to mental health.

At the European Investment Fund (EIF), life sciences is one of our primary focus areas, and we have recently made a series of investments in venture capital funds that in turn have been supporting companies active in the space where digitalisation meets healthcare, helping to drive innovation in the life sciences sector.

These are a few of the companies making a difference.

Patient-Centric Technologies: NeuroNation and Brain Fitness

Did you know that 50 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s disease? And as Europe’s population continues to live longer, the issue of cognitive impairment presents pressing social, cultural and economic problems for governments across Europe and beyond.

Berlin’s NeuroNation, however, are working on a solution. Their team have developed a cognitive training programme, one that helps improve memory and attention span, thought speed and overall cognitive fitness. “Our brain is almost like a muscle: we have to stimulate it just as we do other muscles in our body,” says co-founder Jakob Futorjanski.

First used as prevention for memory loss and lack of concentration in healthy adults, NeuroNation have become a go-to programme to help rehabilitate patients suffering from the effects of stroke, brain injury, infections like sepsis, age-related brain degeneration illnesses and now long COVID. “Cognitive training therapies are vital for recovery, but waiting times can be up to 20 weeks or more, and caring for patients with brain injuries and dementia is very costly. Digitalisation can definitely help,” Jakob explains.

“Ultimately, it’s about supporting people to regain a life worth living.”

NeuroNation’s programme is delivered digitally and provides cognitive profile testing training of core brain functions. It algorithmically creates 100% personalised training for the user, including daily challenges “and games to make it fun. But the real beauty is that it can be done remotely from the comfort of the patient’s home and own device.”

Personalised Rehabilitation: SWORD Health and Virtual Physical Therapy

In terms of life worth living, if you’re then you know that minor nuisances such as sprains, strains and muscle pulls can put a damper on your overall quality of life. The prescription is often a course of physio, but, with seemingly endless demands on one’s time, it can be difficult to integrate these sessions on a daily basis.

Porto’s SWORD Health have come up with a convenient digital solution. The company allows patients to follow therapeutic sessions from the comfort of their home any time of the day. As CEO and founder Virgilio Bento explains,

“You can get on with your physiotherapy in your pyjamas at 7am or at 11pm when the kids are in bed. It’s a set of wearable motion tracking devices that communicate wirelessly with the cloud, looping back 5000 impact feedback messages that allow the therapist to guide the patient from a distance. 30% of patients recover faster and better compared to onsite therapy.”

With a client base that includes health systems, healthcare services, insurance companies and self-insured employers in the US — pretty much anyone who wants to provide cost-efficient high-quality care — SWORD Health have taken the physiotherapy experience to the next level.

Innovative Health Tech Solutions: Elsa Science and Digital Therapeutics

Elsa Science, Stockholm, Sweden, digital therapeutics, health tech

Apart from musculoskeletal conditions, rheumatoid arthritis is another scourge that continues to afflict millions of people worldwide. However, Stockholm-based Elsa Science are pioneering the use of digital therapeutics through science-based motivational and educational support. One of the primary ways that they provide support to people living with chronic disease is by fostering dialogue among individuals, families, patient organisations, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and scientists. CEO Sofia Svanteson has been working in the field of digital solutions for many years:

“Mobile devices have always fascinated me, but I have never been interested in technology for the sake of technology; rather in how it can solve problems for humans so we can improve our lives.”

According to Sofia, the company offers software-driven cognitive behavioural therapy interventions by means of a digital companion with which users can track their symptoms, habits, and medication to better understand how these correlate. The key is self-management between hospital or GP visits in order to fill the knowledge gaps outside of these clinical settings, thereby enabling individuals to better cope with their illness.

Industry 4.0, VC Funding and Future Trends in Digital Healthcare in Europe

health data, interoperability, digitalising healthcare, Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 — or the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — refers to the rapid pace of change across various sectors due to increasing interconnectivity and automation, and the digitalisation of healthcare is an important part of this twenty-first century story.

Future healthcare technology trends and patient-centric technologies will include, among other things, knowledge sharing across industries, AI-powered drug discovery and development, the expansion of proactive intervention in early detection and treatment of various diseases and pathogens, and the proliferation of telemedicine, with European SMEs playing a crucial role by accelerating this transformation in the coming decades.

At the same time, it’s important to keep fuelling this innovative potential and maintaining a well-nourished venture capital ecosystem in Europe. Competition with the likes of the US market is stiff: between a fragmented capital market, a more limited exit environment, complex market access procedures and patenting modalities, European researchers and start-ups have their work cut out for them. But the fundamentals are strong.

That was very much the message we heard at the EIF’s 2023 Ugly Duck get-together of venture capital fund managers during a dedicated session on healthcare and life sciences. More than anything else, the biggest challenge according to the panellists seemed to be attracting institutional investors — from pension funds to insurance companies — into the venture capital space. And therein lies a second challenge: using the data to tell a better story in order to achieve that attraction.

Surely, digitalisation has an important role to play.



European Investment Fund (EIF)

Europe's leading provider of risk financing for SMEs. Cornerstone investor in VC and PE funds. Making debt financing more affordable for entrepreneurs. @EIF_EU